aml

random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

feminist links

image

kept seeing feminist posts this past week and decided to put them all together.

the end of sexism by joanne mcneil

man up, newsweek, and put the silly “men in decline” meme in context by rachel sklar

you can put your top back on now: rediscovering the women of fluxus at moma by seth colter walls [via ja]

the moma exhibit related to their new publication, modern women: women artists at the museum of modern art

here a critique of counter space:design and the modern kitchen, which just opened sept 15: gastro-vision back in the kitchen by nicole caruth

…and even:

the beautiful girls by tom and lorenzo

[previously by me]

image: a classic from the guerrilla girls

Filed under: ., feminism, lists,

tres bibliotecas de borges

en cierto sentido, claro, borges tuvo muchas bibliotecas—pero en este post me voy a limitar a tres. la primera, de la que menos datos tengo, es la biblioteca nacional de buenos aires, de la que fue director cuando tenia su sede en la calle mexico. esta imagen, la unica que pude encontrar, es particularmente triste por estar vacia (una biblioteca sin libros suena a cancion de sabina).

la segunda, la biblioteca que borges construyo—la biblioteca de babel, que segun el autor,es infinita y periodica:

…se compone de un número indefinido, y tal vez infinito, de galerías hexagonales, con vastos pozos de ventilación en el medio, cercados por barandas bajísimas. Desde cualquier hexágono se ven los pisos inferiores y superiores: interminablemente. La distribución de las galerías es invariable. Veinte anaqueles, a cinco largos anaqueles por lado, cubren todos los lados menos dos; su altura, que es la de los pisos, excede apenas la de un bibliotecario normal. Una de las caras libres da a un angosto zaguán, que desemboca en otra galería, idéntica a la primera y a todas.

la tercera biblioteca nunca la conocio. borges fue director de la biblioteca nacional de la republica argentina entre 1955 y 1973. durante su gestion, se promovio la construccion de un nuevo edificio, disenado en 1961 por clorindo testa, francisco bullrich, y alicia cazzaniga. para el proyecto se uso el mismo sitio en donde estuviera el palacio unzue, la residencia oficial de juan peron y su mujer, evita peron. unzue fue demolido por motivos politicos en 1958, y el terreno adjudicado a la biblioteca para su nueva sede. la construccion comenzo en 1971, y termino finalmente en 1992, seis anios despues de la muerte de borges.

[imagenes del interior disponibles aqui]

me pregunto si testa penso en la biblioteca de babel mientras disenaba esta… tal vez pudieramos decir que si la biblioteca de babel es infinita, es porque crea un universo alterno, que es lo que busca el diseno de testa & cia, aislando al lector en una burbuja que flota por encima de la realidad. pero si el enfasis de la historia de borges esta en el universo de los libros, la biblioteca de testa esta enfocada al momento de lectura: los libros estan almacenados en tres sotanos, y las imagenes nos llevan a idilicos momentos de lectura aislada, enmarcada con la vista del horizonte infinito de buenos aires.

el apodo de testa para su obra es ‘el gliptodon,’ y esa es la impresion que da: la de un animal solitario, errante, con un duro y grueso carapacho que le da el aspecto de estar siempre a la defensiva. esa es a menudo la actitud que les toca a las bibliotecas en sudamerica, en donde leer es un lujo que se mantiene contracorriente. pudieramos especular que una biblioteca parece ser un programa politicamente neutral, dificil de oponer, y por tanto apropiado para un sitio con rezagos politicos. ironico, puesto que las bibliotecas nunca han figurado como arma politica: ningun politico promete bibliotecas en campania. el gliptodon no ataca, no muerde, pero tampoco hace amigos. camina solo, tercamente, por su propio sendero.

ps. abanico es la revista de la biblioteca, publicada en linea mensualmente.

pps. un precedente interesante, la torre velasca en milano, de belgioioso, peressutti, y rogers, pero yo argumentaria que las proporciones de la biblioteca transforman al espacio superior en una celula flotante, mientras que la verticalidad del edificio en milan solo logra dividir el cuerpo en dos sin que el volumen superior se desprenda de la base.

pps. si quieren algo mas literal, esta la biblioteca vasconcelos en mexico: infinita y periodica… tiene tambien su propia historia politica, pero no entra en este post.

ppps. para porno de bibliotecas, recomiendo el trabajo de candida hofer.

Filed under: ., borges, brutalism, reading, testa,

institutional critique [of sorts]

i stumbled upon the very interesting joseph gandy reading up on notions of the picturesque and its relationship to modernism, and although his own architectural designs are much more interesting, i suddenly realized he’s the gandy that did this painting of the bank of england as a ruin in 1830:

Joseph Gandy, cut away perspective drawing of the Bank of England as a ruin, 1830, John Soane Museum, (official site) London.

looking at it, i was struck by how similar it is to ed ruscha’s los angeles county museum on fire:

 Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968
 oil on canvas
 53 1/2 H x 133 1/2 W (inches)

in both cases the building looks more like a model than an actual building—isolated, with an awkward perspective and an artificial sheen to it. the degree of violence on the buildings is different, almost like watching a before—with ruscha, the fire has just started and the building is still pristine—and an after—gandy doesn’t tell us what happened, we only see the ruins that conveniently reveal the guts of the building, the inside spaces of the bank. furthermore, in ruscha’s image the glossy surface reflections suggest the fake water of a bad model. but this flood has caused no damage—it just makes the building into an island, and emphasizes the museum as a fictitious object.

it is fitting that gandy (an architect) is more interested in displaying the spaces of the building while ruscha (an artist), who is more interested in subtle pop references through the use of color. but because of the artificiality of the construction, the images are innocuous—the destruction too friendly and harmless in ruscha’s case, too decorated and precious in gandy’s. although the bank is in ruins, they seem too convenient in their reading of interior spaces. despite their similarities, both images remain anchored in their own eras: in an age obsessed with archeological digs “abroad,” (read: empire) gandy creates a ruin in london. likewise, ruscha turns the museum into the scene of a comic book or an advertisement, and fittingly, the fire can’t burn the blase coolness of this object.

in fact, both paintings are so successful in turning the buildings into fiction, that—having never seen either of them—it is surprising to see the bank and the museum are still there. the deliberate artificiality of the paintings is more successful than the violence they depict in casting doubt on the reality of these institutions.

ps. institutional critique

Filed under: ., gandy, ruins, ruscha,

on books, buildings, and new narratives

i recently read neil levine’s “the book and the building: hugo’s theory of architecture and labrouste’s bibliotheque ste-genevieve,” a text i should have read a while ago and that i recommend to anyone interested in the multiple links between books and buildings. levine tells us that hugo actually consulted with labrouste when writing the more architecture-relevant chapters of the hunchback of notre dame, in particular the well-known ceci tuera cela.

as the title suggests, the essay is divided in two parts (moreover, the same two parts as hugo’s dictum). the first one (ceci, the book) is an analysis of hugo’s thoughts on architecture in the context of the ecole des beaux-arts in paris and the predominance of composition as the multiple iterations of layouts within a set of established rules (levine dwells more on hugo than i will). the second one (cela, the building!) is a description of the literary qualities of labrouste’s bibliotheque ste-genevieve (1843-61). the building is considered part of the neo-grec movement, a reaction against the beaux-arts system: opposing the closed vocabulary of classicism championed by the beaux-arts system, labrouste made the function and program of the library ‘readable’ in literal and metaphorical ways (for example, he went printed the names of the authors on the facade according to their placement on the shelves on the other side of those walls). a readable building as reaction to the printing press, the library was labrouste’s response to the crisis victor hugo had announced.

levine takes care to distinguish labrouste’s readable architecture from ledoux’s architecture parlante: this is not architecture that speaks, it does not loudly announce. instead it asks to be read, it draws you in and requires attention—different episodes are carefully linked into a chain that must be reconstructed. it does not operate through a pre-established formal language (classicism), but attempts a more universal approach—or at least a specifically french approach, citing authors and works known to french culture.

because levine’s essay was published in 1982, i can’t help but associating such claims of readability with peter eisenman’s proposal of architecture as text, in “the end of the classical: the end of the beginning, the end of the end” (perspecta 1984), and venturi, izenour, and scott brown’s earlier learning from las vegas (1972). strange bedfellows, for sure, and there is apparently a great distance between them. labrouste’s bibliotheque tautologically writes its own meaning onto itself, and requires careful exploration to exhaust its references. eisenman’s architectural texts fabricate fictions of their own, not so much meant to be read as deciphered by the chosen few. v&sb’s building-billboards playfully opened the door to pre-existing codes, but the inclusion of historicist references soon undermined their claims to modernity. however, there are some shortcuts that bring them closer.

while the semiological wave would take postmodernism into different directions, it is interesting to read the catalog of one of the exhibitions that jump-started it all—arthur drexler’s beaux-arts exhibition at moma in 1975. the catalog includes an essay by levine which precedes the one on the library (both related to his phd dissertation at yale, 1975), and more relevantly, a piece by drexler, which hints at paths not taken in the study of beaux-arts strategies, less as a model of classicist form, and more as a compositional strategy of iterative design (for an insightful analysis of drexler’s thought, see the felicity scott essay cited below). while writers in the catalog levine and david van zanten strive to separate the neo-grec from the ecole des beaux-arts, drexler sees both as a unified whole that dominated 19th century french architecture, and whose insights—he claims—have been lost in the confrontation between complexity as goal (obviously, a reference to venturi, or the grays) and engineering and modernity as extreme abstention (the whites, and the followers of mies, a bit arbitrarily dumped into one group). drexler argues that the beaux-arts model can be used for an alternative path, in which free play and necessity are balanced, hierarchy mediates between inclusion and exclusion, and scenography plays a role between image and diagram. in trying to find a path between grays and whites, drexler reminds us that both groups had more in common than they cared to admit, with different interpretations of architecture as language, as something to be read (both as building and text).

finally, levine’s essay on hugo and labrouste is particularly fascinating because of its complete out-datedness. in a moment when the end of the printed book has become old news before actually happening, the essay brings up a russian doll-like problem-within-a-problem. if the book destroyed architecture, what happens to architecture now that the book is being destroyed? (is it?) if the printing press destroyed architecture, it provided it with a program: with more books being printed, libraries became available to the public. with the book being replaced by its digital counterpart, the architectural program seems to evaporate into hardware and software, disseminate into our individual cocoons of preferred reading devices, only tenuously held together by the precious wifi signals that we depend so much on. perhaps this condition of dispersion has come to define us, and prompts some of the most intriguing architecture research going on, focusing either on similarly expanded territories (scroll down to sheppard and white’s panel): environments, weather, and so on… or on the intimate scale of the object: the iphone as architectural device.

perhaps this is where nicolas negroponte’s piece is useful: it is the narrative that takes precedence, the content over the form, or as mimi zeiger put it more recently, the message over the medium. no more architecture as text. but can we recover a narrative for architecture?

ps. i just googled architecture narrative and found this. go ahead, laugh.

recommended:

the bibliotheque ste-genevieve in googlemaps—i recommend the street view although some scaffolding is currently obstructing the facade.

arthur drexler, museum of modern art, the architecture of the ecole des beaux-arts (new york, cambridge: museum of modern art, mit press 1977).

anne friedberg, “place, ubiquity, and the thing,” in networked publics.

neil levine, “the book and the building: hugo’s theory of architecture and labrouste’s bibliotheque ste-genevieve,” in robin middleton, the beaux-arts and nineteenth-century french architecture (cambridge: mit press 1982).

nicolas negroponte, “the paper book is dead, long live the narrative” (thanks to namanand henderson for pointing this out!)

felicity scott, “when systems fail” in perspecta 35 (2004).

mimi zeiger, “discontented, or the pursuit of content in a format age,” in mas context information.

Filed under: ., eisenman, scott-brown,

maps and empires

En aquel Imperio, el Arte de la Cartografía logró tal Perfección que el Mapa de una sola Provincia ocupaba toda una Ciudad, y el Mapa del Imperio, toda una Provincia. Con el tiempo, estos Mapas Desmesurados no satisficieron y los Colegios de Cartógrafos levantaron un Mapa del Imperio, que tenía el Tamaño del Imperio y coincidía puntualmente con él. Menos Adictas al Estudio de la Cartografía, las Generaciones Siguientes entendieron que ese dilatado Mapa era Inútil y no sin Impiedad lo entregaron a las Inclemencias del Sol y los Inviernos. En los Desiertos del Oeste perduran despedazadas Ruinas del Mapa, habitadas por Animales y por Mendigos; en todo el País no hay otra reliquia de las Disciplinas Geográficas.
Suárez Miranda: Viajes de varones prudentes,
libro cuarto, cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658.

Jorge Luis Borges

[read it in english here]

compare:

“Chendge was located at a remote Inner Mongolian oasis with lakes, green hills, and a multitude of small rivers at the foot of the yanshan mountains. (…) Qianlong created about ten new temples in the surrounding areas (…).

These temples, dedicated to a range of Confusian and Buddhist deities drawn from various parts of the empire, formed a conceptual and religious-political arc around the palace. All these temples can be seen from the main hill north of the palace, so that they form a single scenographic whole. A self-conscious visual ensemble, Chengde was a spectacle. With the Han Chinese palace complex with its lake, gardens, and hills at its center and the Buddhist temples in an arc around it, Chengde was a veritable microcosm of the Qing empire, a map of the land.

But Chengde was more than a map of the empire. It was also an ordering of that map according to a Buddhist mandala.”

Jarzombek, Prakash, Ching, A Global History of Architecture (Hoboken: Wiley 2007), 587.

[googlemap Chengde!!]

Filed under: ., borges, jarzombek, maps,

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