random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

a light post about architects and death

ildefonso cerdá liked the grid, perhaps a bit too much.

louis sullivan was keen on ornament up to the end

carlo scarpa will forever peek into tomba brion [i mean really dude. let go.]

frank lloyd wright not only has a wrightean grave, it’s empty and has a crazy story behind it. wright was one for drama even after death.

and mies’s grave… close your eyes… you know what it looks like, right? i mean, do i even have to link to it?

ps. if you are curious about someone else, you can go here.

pps. fyi, this light post actually includes a stealth commentary on the dangers of caricaturizing your own work. i’m just too lazy to write it.

ppps. john soane’s grave inspired gg scott’s design of the iconic london phone booth. more here.

pppps. video of corb’s funeral [via sam jacob]

ppppps. i just visited miralles’s grave at igualada, where the archifaithful have left messages for enric. 20120622.

Filed under: ., cerda, death, mies, scarpa, sullivan, wright,

women architects: f’ing cool

denise and other monuments

the new york review of books recently published this article titled “the world’s foremost female architect,” giving it up for denise scott-brown. my first reaction was that selecting “the world’s foremost” seems like a particularly [excuse my political incorrectness] male thing to do. i mean, do we really need a foremost female architect? because being the leader necessarily means being lonely there at the top, and as a woman architect myself, the experience of ‘lone woman in the office,’ while dealable, is not something that i would call pleasurable. let me be clear. while i’ve often enough been the sole women at the office, or at the studio, or at the class, or at the faculty meeting, i’ve been lucky to have had fantastic male colleagues [well, most of them] that have minimized any friction that might come from a ‘gender unbalanced’ environment. in fact, i long ago decided that this would not be a problem, and it largely hasn’t [ok, there was that creepy guy that liked to stand by my desk and watch me work, but we won’t go there]. and i should add i’m delighted that many younger generations have not had this lonely experience [actually lonelier when working in the us than back in ecuador].

source: and ray eames

so back to the article above. part of the problem with female architect role models, is that there are really very few of them that ‘fit’ a perfect ‘role model’ mold. denise is part of a husband-and-wife team, as were alison smithson [although, note the dark overtones of the photograph, with her literally in the blurry background] and ray eames [a fun image, i’ve always thought, but part of its humor coming from the observer being amused at the fact that she is driving]. more recent examples of such partnerships include diana agrest of agrest and gandelsonas, billie tsien of willians and tsien, sarah whiting of ww architecture, and monica ponce de leon of office dA. although all these partnerships work in different ways, they have managed to keep their respective offices working successfully.

interesting anomalies in these examples are the recent split of farshid moussavi and alejandro zaera polo, of foa architects, and the changing partners and office of enric miralles, carme pinos (her studio here) and benedetta tagliabue (who decided to keep his name in the office).

these women are all fantastic examples of accomplishment, yet we are left wondering, what would have happened if they had been on their own? would certain clients have been less than willing to hire? (in this sense, pinos and tagliabue make interesting examples) why do we seem to thrive more easily in an academic environment? is it possible for a woman to make it on her own, as an architect?

this is probably the reason so many flock to zaha hadid as feminist role model. but, lest we forget, zaha does have a partner in the office, patrick schumacher. and what about sanaa? kazujo sejima has ryue nishizawa. actually, is there any ‘big’ architecture office out there, with a sole woman partner?

but this is the wrong question to ask, because it uses the same logic of the ‘foremost.’ in fact, most architects work as partners, male or female- design is a process enriched by discussion. and i love discussion: i love talking about architecture, and although i can happily spend a night designing [or more recently, writing and researching] on my own, i love coming out for air and discussing my work, or someone else’s work. so perhaps we should stop looking for the foremost and think more about the great role women architects have in these partnerships. let’s stop looking for the one example and focus on the many.

there are of course, the forerunners. eileen gray (1878-1976), margarete schutte-lihotzky (1897-2000!), charlotte perriand (1903-1999) and lina bo bardi (1914-1992) are early examples of women architects (and by the way, move over oscar niemeyer, 103 years old, props margarete!) that not only managed to work on their own [sometimes], but made no excuses about their interest in designing a kick-ass kitchen or incorporating some very handy domestic gizmos into the home [nudge, nudge, wink wink].

so, what can eileen, margarete, charlotte, and lina teach us? be sure to get credit for your work [i’m talking about you, old editions of k. frampton’s modern architecture with your incomplete, yet recently corrected, credit on the kitchen]. don’t let your old boss take over your beach house at cap martin. don’t let the pritzker forget about you. but also, relax. let’s stop apologizing for having partners, if we want them. let’s chat more: conversation is good between partners, it should also help us as professionals. yes, it’s satisfying to denounce nasty old men’s misogynistic ways, but perhaps we need more information about the cool women that were able to work things out. because we are cool, too. f’ing cool.

ps. don’t let the pritzker forget about DSB!

Filed under: ., bo bardi, feminism, gray, perriand, rant, schutte-lihotzky, scott-brown,

from cosmos to earth II: seeing

To classify, therefore, will no longer mean to refer the visible back to itself, while allotting one of its elements the task of representing the others; it will mean, in a movement that makes analysis pivot on its axis, to relate the visible to the invisible, to its deeper cause, as it were, then to rise upwards once more from that hidden architecture towards the more obvious signs displayed on the surfaces of bodies.

Michel Foucault[1]

The principal impulse by which I was directed was the earnest endeavor to comprehend the phenomena of physical objects in their general connection, and to represent nature as one great whole, moved and animated by internal forces.

Alexander von Humboldt[2]

Humboldt is subject to the vital impulse, he is directed by the same internal forces that animate the phenomena he studies. He can only look at the signs in the surface, can only measure the exteriority of things: He takes notes, measures temperatures, types of plants, populations. He likes charts, he compares numbers. He keeps track of locations, has maps drawn, “from Observations made on the Spot By Alexandre de Humboldt.” Humboldt knows no frontiers: his maps show no boundaries, political divisions are irrelevant, nature is bigger than man’s petty politics (Fig. 2). The names of countries float over rivers like spidery veins and mountain chains like violent scars. His plans are detailed, and aspire to be exact: they include latitudes and longitudes, they show regions, geographical systems: the course of a river, the delicate joining of Panama to South America. Humboldt likes sections: they join the delicate detail of his drawings and the scientific precision of his charts. He makes comparative sections of mountain peaks, lines up the Chimborazo, the Popocatepetl and Mont Blanc, and measures them with a ruler (Fig. 1).[3] His maps pinpoint “cities, villages, farms, settlements abandoned, astronomical observations made by M. de Humboldt.” Hence Humboldt himself in inside his maps, just as he is subject to the vital force of nature, he also wants to be tabulated and mapped along with nature. In the same way we will also find him in his drawings.

Humboldt draws. He sketches mountains, valleys, the ruins of ancient civilizations, volcanoes, waterfalls. He returns to Paris to have them engraved, but retains his authorship: “d’aprés une esquisse de M. de Humboldt.” He publishes his views of the Andes in two volumes, one of engravings and one of explanations. The engravings often show himself, or his teammates, peeking into a crater, admiring a volcano, or in conversation with people from the region. Hence he often draws himself looking at himself while drawing. Sometimes llamas look back (Fig. 5). He is in the text, in the maps, in the images, in the credit lines, part of the nature he is trying to map the surface of.

For dispossessed minds such as these, space seems to constitute a will to devour. Space chases, entraps, and digests them in a huge process of phagocytosis. Then, it ultimately takes their place. The body and mind thereupon become dissociated; the subject crosses the boundary of its own skin and stands outside of his senses. He tries to see himself, from some point in space. He feels that he is turning into space himself –dark space into which things cannot be put. He is similar; not similar to anything in particular, but simply similar. And he dreams up spaces that “spasmodically possess” him.

Roger Caillois[4]

Reclus wants to be alone. He is not present in his text, he disappears in the environment, floating lightly above. If Humboldt is in the foreground, Reclus hides obstinatedly in the background, mixed in with the statistics on populations and growth, stepping forward every now and then, to point out a colleague’s mistake. He wants to think it is against his will, but the pattern betrays him. From the Swiss Alps, his schizophrenic gaze knows no boundaries. He can see everything: the frontier disputes between Perú and Ecuador, the heights of the Andes, the depths of the Pacific, the economic conditions and mineral wealth of countries.

Reclus reproduces (not himself, although he does have children). He reproduces maps, sections, and drawings in his volumes. He selects them personally from other publications and has illustrators copy them. Views are redrawn from photographs, maps traced from topographic surveys. His books are always “illustrated by numerous engravings and maps.” He seamlessly mixes the confluence of rivers, geological formations, rainfall amounts, underwater depths, with populations, political divisions, frontiers in dispute. Photographs are used increasingly as the 20th century approaches, first traced into drawings or paintings, later cropped and inserted carefully into the text, specimens laid out for examination. It is still best to understand through diagrams, objective quantities do not lie, subjective points of view might lead us to distraction. The redrawn images and drawings look once removed, more like the illustrations in a story book or unreliable images in a high school geography textbook: they remain vague, limits too broadly defined, nuances erased, everything is one or the other, the complexity of the cosmos has been filtered and quantified into graphic data that seems to both claim and avoid scientific accuracy.

Thus while Humboldt inserts himself within ‘nature,’ but keeps his distance as the the actor in front of a backdrop, Reclus looks at man as part of nature, but situates both in the realm of the finite and remains himself, an observer.

[1] (Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences 1994, 227)

[2] Author’s Preface (Humboldt, Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe 1860, vii)

[3] See “Lower Limit of Perpetual Snow in different Latitudes,” in (A. d. Humboldt 1818-21)

[4] (Caillois 2003, 100)

Filed under: ., caillois, foucault, humboldt, maps, reclus,

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