random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

3 stadiums in colombia

…tied to jorge gaitan cortes, architect, politician, mayor of bogota, and part of a group of architects involved with the state during postwar latin america, whom i’m interested in. the stadiums were done in collaboration with gonzalez zuleta for the ardeco firm. also, world cup-themed post, of course.

atanasio girardot stadium, medellin 1953. note elegant tilt down for reduced seating (and maybe a change of grade? not sure) behind the goal posts. in another life, i used to design soccer stadiums.

pascual guerrero stadium, cali 1937, remodeled 1948. very nice expression of structural ribs and underside of seating. looking at the section published in proa in 1955 (sorry, can’t post here), there seems to have been a later addition in the bottom, which definitely clutters the base. or, the section drawings omitted this portion. any colombian readers out there?

nemesio camacho ‘el campin’ stadium, bogota 1938, remodeled late 1940s. nice projection of the seating into sculptural wing, closed, in contrast with the bare bones aesthetic of the previous stadium.

note: no, i’m not from colombia. i’m from ecuador. i just happen to like these stadiums. coincidentally, when the nemesio camacho stadium was inaugurated in 1938 ecuador beat colombia 2:1. at least that’s what wikipedia says, therefore it must be true.

ps. also cool: the baseball stadium in cartagena, 1947 by solano, ortega, gaitan, santacruz, and burbano.


Filed under: ., brutalism, stadiums,

post no bills

pps. to previous post: on writing, some advice from wb. we might as well be as pedantic now with our writing instruments as he was with his pen and paper [hardware—choice of laptop, mouse, and software—specific fonts, programs]. but we now share online.

Benjamin, Walter. “One Way Street,” in Reflections  : essays, aphorisms, autobiographical writings. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978, pp. 80-81.   

The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.

III. In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an etude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable. 

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.

VIII. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.

IX. Nulla dies sine linea — but there may well be weeks.

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.

XII. Stages of composition: idea—style—writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style.

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.

Filed under: ., benjamin, lists, writing,

on writing and reading

like many who write (saying you are “a writer” sounds inaccurate and not sure what would make it true…getting paid for it maybe?)  i have a love-hate relationship with writing. i am actually not comparing myself with fellow bloggers, although after a while of reading someone you get to know their posting rhythms, which is nice. without naming names (they know who they are), some tend to have long silences followed by a series of brilliant posts, while others keep a steady flow of musings, often  more than one a day—it all depends of course of the type of blog they keep (some, more research-based, others, more introspective or reactive to current events, etc.). there are also of course the multi-taskers, who keep up with both by double-blogging or combining different feeds, usually a shorter one for comments and a longer one for essays.

so, back to the start again (you see this writing post is all very meta). like many of those who write, except perhaps these great bloggers, but like many very self-conscious writers at least that have written about writing, i have a love-hate relationship with writing. my problem is that my love of writing is at odds with my need to organize and plan things out. but although i can plan researching and reading, i can’t plan writing, which comes usually as a product of the above, but in an ingrateful, distrustful, and sneaky way. i’ll sit there and stare at the screen (i type very fast, which sometimes makes it even more frustrating). and nothing. i can’t plan writing, although it is easier to plan academic writing—at least the part that is research-based, and comes as a result of processing information. but i can’t plan blog writing. i’ll plan to write a post about something and it turns out boring and awful.  but of course, when it’s the least convenient, when i haven’t planned it at all, i’ll get an idea and spend 5 minutes and suddenly there it is, working quite nicely.

so what happens when nothing comes along? then, i read. but as a ph.d. student, reading is my job, and it has now become a completely different verb. reading is reactive, and it must be said, it is aggressive. the text is there as a site to be closely inspected, pulled and pushed apart for clues, dissected in search for the writer’s conscious and unconscious intentions and desires. this is why partly i’m so skeptical of the i-pad frenzy, because reading (i read entirely on pdf now) for me requires writing (reacting). each piece of text that i read as a pdf is bookmarked into its own outline to the side, and embedded with notes. more extensive notes, if required, go along on a separate word file, but the noted, bookmarked, and highlighted pdf becomes the product of the conversation between the writer and me. additional word files keep track of further notes relating the text to other texts, putting authors in conversation with each other or perhaps with themselves at a different date. i become, then, the mediator, the filter and the bridge that connects this web of texts. how should i build my web? in a way, i also approach this as an architectural problem: not only these connections, but the texts themselves.

perhaps because i am also an architect, i’m particularly attentive and interested in the structure of writings, so it’s something i look for when i read. for example, michel foucault is an extraordinarily organized writer: his essays outline very easily, consisting of main topics and secondary subtopics. but intriguingly, he hides this structure, eliminating subtitles and presenting the text as long chapters. in contrast, kant is the master subtitler, with the argument tidily partitioned in a series of very short chapters that echo each other, so that we understand the structure when we happen upon it again. it is a pet peeve of mine that early peter eisenman writings are all gridded (as his architecture!): he cross-references two different topics to come up with different iterations and then stays with the last, more complex one, as his proposal (see, for example, notes on conceptual architecture, where the combination of noah chomsky’s deep and surface structures with synthactic and semantic notions results in four different variants of architecture).  these are of course very formal analysis, which don’t take into account other subtleties of writing. a weakness of mine.

as a result of such architectural reasoning, i constantly turn texts into diagrams or charts. my colleagues tend to either tease me fondly or look at them suspiciously: there is that danger in the diagram, that things become too simple, that rationalism defeats the intricacies of the text. but it brings these questions to the foreground. what structure should i use for my text? how should i write my reading? in the end, the action of diagramming or charting a text is both reading and writing, and the great diagrams or charts (they are not the same thing!) only happen with great texts, and often prompt more writing. and more reading.

ps. lydia millet on reading, via loudpaper’s twitter feed

Filed under: ., eisenman, foucault, kant, reading, writing,

on dispersion: communists and capitalists

He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise. But never again will such gifts of free land offer themselves. For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant. There is no tabula rasa.

Frederick Jackson Turner[1]

At the start of the 20th century, and particularly in the period between the world wars, architects and planners looked away from the density of the city fabric towards an alternative of dispersion. The following post briefly compares several such examples, visions of dispersion used as arguments from opposite political ideologies. 

Dolores Hayden[2] tells the story of the expansion of suburbia as a private venture that encouraged individual enterprise, although it often resulted in ill-advised investment and frustration. The 19th century pattern books and plan books eventually evolved into the Sears catalogs in the first decades of the 20h century (1908-1914). This ‘kit-of-parts’ approach often deceived buyers as to the final price of the investment by offering a bare-bones product that required buying a lot of extras for a completed project, but its flexibility and ability to rapidly populate the land with houses-in-progress would be the aspiration of later utopias. However, these developments depended on infrastructure that would take a long time to arrive, and commuting distances and the lack of basic services made life difficult. The lots were laid out without provisions for public space, and the need for better planning eventually resulted in the creation of zoning ordinances during the 1920s. Later, in the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) would create manuals to advice architects on how to design subdivisions with larger lots and more green space, although this made the end result less affordable.

Parallel to these private visions of dispersion, Francesco Dal Co[3] tells us of the intervention of the state in the construction of workers’ villages during World War I. The policy was seen as an efficient strategy given limited economic means, but it was followed by accusations of socialism after the war. While Hayden gives an example of private dispersion as an example of entrepreneurship, Dal Co shows how town building in the 1920s was taken up by the state through the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). According to Dal Co, the RPAA’s ideology was influenced by Geddes and the European descentralist tradition including Kropotkin and Howard, resulting in a synthesis that was both pragmatic and idealistic, dedicated to civic reform, and connected to values identified with the United States such as individuality and democracy. 

…at the time there still seemed to be no alternative to the Western idea of a city conceived as a center of habitation and production; subsequently this very conception was to be questioned and the view expressed that “the city” was an archaic and obsolete model inseparably linked with the capitalist philosophy of production.

Anatole Kopp[6]

These descentralized visions of democracy resemble the socialist disurbanist vision of M. Okhitovich, presented in Moscow in 1930. The disurbanist city was to be based on a grid of power stations scattered throughout the territory of the Soviet Union. The grid would allow an equal distribution of factories in order to establish industrial centers and allow the population to spread evenly, eliminating the difference between city and countryside. The disurbanists distanced themselves from the ‘urbanist’ group by arguing against communal houses and proposing instead lightweight prefabricated houses, easily assembled and dismantled, to adapt to different living conditions (bachelorhood, marriage, family, divorce). Communal social activities and separation of the children were reminders of the collective nature of the socialist state. These ideas were applied in Ginzburg and Barshch’s Green City, a proposal for the dispersion of Moscow first published in SA in 1930,which included drawings for these prefabricated units. Aesthetics aside, these units can be compared to the sears catalog houses as similar examples of a typology of small prefabricated units intended to be deployed on a low density landscape.

…what is more important here is that the general socialization of land permits the opening of a completely new debate on the instruments of planning

Manfredo Tafuri[4]

In his analysis of the development of Soviet urban planning from 1917-1928, Tafuri concludes that soviet proposals fit one of two equally useless paradigms: either a more or less romantic empiricism or the artificial universe of the avant-garde. Sakulin’s dispersion strategy for Moscow, for example, is read as a formalist exercise that is more dependent on the availability of land and the anxiety to socialize the territory, than on real analysis of the industrialization program or the overall economic strategy (Tafuri 156). The land as an ‘unprecedented theoretical field for experimentation’ was a characteristic shared with proposals from the United States. For example, Ivan Leonidov’s proposal for the new city of Magnitogorsk[7] bears a resemblance to Wright’s Broadacre City.

To reiterate: the basis of the whole is general decentralization as an applied principle and architectural reintegration of all units into one fabric; free use of the ground held only by use and improvements; public utilities and government itself owned by the people of Broadacre City; privacy of one’s own ground for all and a fair means of subsistence for all by way of their own work on their own ground or in their own laboratory or in common offices serving he life of the whole.

Frank Lloyd Wright[5]

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City of 1932, is described as a continuous but porous or dispersed ‘city’ in which the grid provides a constant background of infrastructure and communication while the plots highlight variety and individuality. The dispersed quality of the proposal makes it rely on technological innovations for communication and production. By eliminating the city, Wright hopes to eliminate government to a minimum. The architect is designated as the agent of the state, chosen by each county and resulting in a purported individuality that is nevertheless subject to the invisible rule of Wright’s organic architecture. Architecture is elevated but at the same time fragmented and de-scaled (everything is described as ‘little,’ see Wright 247). In supporting a maximum of independence and individuality, themes such as economics and class differences are ignored or assumed as resolved.

Kopp’s conclusions on the utopian character of these disurbanist proposals and the damage they inflicted to the cause of city planning align with Tafuri’s disapproval of their formalist nature. However, both should be contrasted with the rural dispersion going on a few years prior in the United States, which offered a formally similar solution of small lightweight and transformable houses while arguing individual entrepreneurship instead of collective efficiency.  Both Turner, talking about the USA, and Tafuri on the USSR, seem to come to the conclusion that the impulse to cover their respective vast territories might have been more important than any ideological justification. Perhaps in the end it is the common element of the land as experimental field that unites both ‘communists’ and ‘capitalists’ in their need to expand and occupy the landscape.

[1] Turner, Frederick. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” in The frontier in American history. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1962, p. 38.  

[2] Hayden, Dolores. “Mail-Order and Self-Built Suburbs,” in Building suburbia: green fields and urban growth, 1820-2000. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003, pp. 97-127.  

[3] Dal Co, Francesco, “From the First World War to the New Deal: The Regional Planning Association of America,” in Ciucci, Giorgio, et al. The American city: from the Civil War to the New Deal. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,  c1979, pp. 221-260.

[4] Tafuri, Manfredo. “Toward the ‘Socialist City’: U.S.S.R., 1917-28,” in The sphere and the labyrinth : avant-gardes and architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1987, pp. 151.

[5] Frank Lloyd Wright, “Broadacre City: A New Community Plan,” Architectural Record 1977 (April 1935): 254.

[6] Kopp, Anatole. “Town and Revolution,” in Town and revolution Soviet architecture and city planning, 1917-1935. New York: G. Braziller, 1970, p. 165.

[7] Also see Ginzburg, Moiseĭ I͡Akovlevich. Style and Epoch. Cambridge, Mass: Published for the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies by MIT Press, 1982.  

Filed under: ., cities, politics, tafuri, wright,

sexy walls

…some sexy walls, particularly nice to look at after the last post. these are the walls of the ark of bukhara, uzbekistan [view on google maps], and sacsayhuaman fortress, peru [view on google maps].

Filed under: ., google earth, incas, rocks,

ecuadorian walls

recently i keep seeing posts about walls a lot. petit cabanon posts about nuno coelho and adam kershaw’s exhibition, including this comparison between the berlin wall with the wall between israel and palestine. lebbeus woods proposed walls as infrastructure for havana, cuba, also with an intro on the berlin wall [and excessive fascination with the aesthetics of informality, imo]. and in the news, the recent arizona law brings up the issue of of the border wall between mexico and the us [click here for some borderwall as architecture].

these very famous walls remind me of some of the walls that have been built in the last ten years in ecuador, where i’m from. i’d like to show you some of them.

this is the wall between an existing town called buijo historico and a new-ish gated community. the wall is 8 meters high [more than 26’], which seems to be about the height of the wall between palestine and israel.

the idea of course is that nobody in the new gated community would buy if they realized how close the town really is. the town is called “buijo historico” [historic buijo] because it lodged simon bolivar before he went into guayaquil [whether he invaded, liberated, or conquered guayaquil depends on who you are reading]. guayaquil is my hometown, a city surrounded by horizontal growth consisting mainly of invasions, privatized low income single family housing, and gated communities. in the example above, the town happened to be located in a piece of land that suddenly became very valuable.

on a reverse type of example, the following gated communities were planned as low income social housing near santa elena [zoom out to get the full picture], in the coast of ecuador.

these are my pics of the billboards some brilliant marketing exec planted in front of them a few years ago in a campaign for overpriced furniture [“exceptional comfort” and “environments that thrill”]. because poor people have a right to gated communities too! [actual paraphrasing from our socialist president, although not referring to these examples]. most of the people that live here have no cars, and have to wait for a bus to stop in the middle of a high traffic highway in order to get access to anything.

in this increasingly privatized environment, the city hall of guayaquil started renovating its public spaces, and promptly fencing them. under the guise of saving the city, the city itself was transformed into a series of walled spaces of atrophied publicness. the success of these spaces, in a city starved for public space, was confused with the validity of privatization as a strategy [x. andrade has written eloquently about this phenomenon and its consequences].

finally, new urbanist champions andres duany and elizabeth plater-zyberk are responsible for these upcoming gems: that’s right, moats replacing walls. i could say many things about this project, and there would be lots of four letter words involved, but i’ll let you come to your own conclusions. my own opinion might be slanted since i was involved in an academic exercise funded by the region’s city hall to project the future growth of this area. still, i’d like to believe my bitterness is pure and uncorrupted.

the border walls of berlin, palestine/israel, and mexico/usa are [or were] political walls, polemically separating zones of conflict, often the cause of disagreement and always the site of great tension. the 8 meter wall between palestine and israel tells us of the enormity of the problems between these countries. the 8 meter wall between a small middle-class gated community and a small river town in ecuador is a caricature.

the walls [and non-walls] popping up in ecuador come from an increased privatization of life, the constant [real and increasingly imagined] threat of delinquency, and the need to hide reality in order to imagine an idyllic life. in ecuador, walls hide dirty secrets and nasty realities and let us pretend things are ok. walls separate income levels and teach us to fear difference. walls make us deny everything that we are, and prompt us to pretend what we are not. walls increase intolerance, discrimination, and fear. and they give me a headache. let’s get rid of them.

if only it were so easy.

ps. related, entrevista con marc auge, via paco gonzalez.

Filed under: ., cities, politics, rant, walls,

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