random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

MITX: 4.605x A Global History of Architecture

Mark Jarzombek gave me the opportunity to give a few lectures in his Global History of Architecture course, based on his fantastic book with Vikram Prakash. The course will be available online as part of the edx project, and they have generously included me in the staff listing (here’s a promotional video if you want to get a general idea). I am very happy and proud to be a part of this project, general reserves about MOOCs notwithstanding. Thanks MMJ!


Filed under: cv, jarzombek

thresholds 41: REVOLUTION!

t41 image

i just edited thresholds, the journal of the MIT department of architecture. thresholds 41: REVOLUTION! is available for download here.

What actions are prompted by revolution in the space of the city? Which publics take part in this struggle, and who are the agents that mobilize it? And after a revolution has subsided, how is it remembered, represented and memorialized? thresholds 41: REVOLUTION! turns to the history, design, and cultural production of the public realm as a site of dissensus. Rather than focusing on a specific revolutionary time and place, we have strived to include different periods and regions, organizing contributions in terms of the relations they establish between sites, actors, and contexts. In the essays and designs featured in these pages, political struggle often shifts established roles—agitators create new types of public space, designers become activists and fundraisers, individual figures fade in favor of collectives or groups, and actions are best remembered through misrepresentation. How do we write revolution, who writes it and for whom? And, in turn, how does urban conflict inform writing, design, and cultural production at large? Our authors, designers, and artists open up revolution as subject, as event, and as historiographical problem—a problem complicated by discrete actions, multiple publics, critical practices, and the politics of display and remembrance. [keep reading on issuu]

Filed under: ., cities, cv, jarzombek, kant, koolhaas, le corbusier, memory, participation, politics, ruins

occupying outdated utopias

My other point, to conclude, was not that we should do finger pointing about the social consequences, for we can lament for-ever the ever monstrous realities of capital, but that we can still manage to have a utopian-driven ambition for society in which architecture plays a leading role.

mark jarzombek, an anti-pragmatic manifesto

ethel barahona’s report for domus, waffle urbanism, makes a great read along with pedro’s post here at la periferia domestica. both ethel and pedro deal with “las setas,” jürgen mayer’s project in sevilla, occupied by the spanish events started at puerta del sol in madrid and also known as the spanish revolution (a link in english here). the ideas on these posts generated a great conversation in twitter that has been storified here (in spanish). you can find updates on acampada sevilla here.

the occupation of mayer’s indulgent mushrooms, a government project, becomes a powerful form of protest. ethel asks, do we believe in utopias? yes—but we also believe some of them are never meant to be built. in architecture, we tend to conflate formal and political utopias as a single group, when they are often at odds with each other. the megastructures of the japanese metabolists, as beautiful as they were, could only have been built by a powerful, centralized authority. we can appreciate their formal beauty, but we must understand the danger such centralized power represents.

the old debates on radical change vs. incremental intervention (robert moses vs jane jacobs) sometimes tend to conflate change with revolution and contextualism with conservation. it is useful to remember that one of the most important fights for the city took place in the context of the works of one such radical modern intervention. the 1871 paris commune was the first revolution to take place after haussmann’s strategical incisions (not only broadening streets and cutting through the city fabric, but also communicating the barracks with the place de la bastille, for example). the defeat of the communards has been linked to subsequent theorizations for dispersion—in utopias from morris to ginsburg, the deliberate suppression of the dichotomy between city and countryside still resonates with engels’ condemnation of the city as the place of capital.

while modern utopias were easily appropriated by authoritarian governments—the vision of brasilia easily taken over by brazil’s military dictatorship, for example—the vision of dispersal dreamt by architects on both sides of the political spectrum (both ginsburg’s disurbanization and wright’s broadacre) turned into suburbia: not only a space dominated by capital, but also one were conflict and difference are suppressed more easily than in the barricades. rather than resurrect debates on city vs countryside, density vs sprawl, or more recently, new urbanism vs landscape urbanism, i want to take a step sideways. i want to make a case for the friction of difference: a case for spaces were disagreement can happen (following rosalind deutsche, or jacques ranciere’s dissensus), and discussion can take place. a space for acampadas—from the occupation of british universities to tahir square.

i still agree with jarzombek—utopia can still excite! but let’s be critical of what we propose, and go beyond easily appropriated, sexy formal moves. utopia can still excite, but it must be operative, programmatic, and participative. in other words, it can return agency to the discipline by returning agency to the people, instead of being simply complicit with power.

ps. in a certain way—and also following jarzombek—i’m arguing for that most modern of spaces, the 14th century piazza that responded to the formation of the public, clearing an open space from the convoluted medieval streets of siena.

Filed under: ., jarzombek, politics, revolution,

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]


“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,

lalibela solid void

…courtesy of mark “indiana jones” jarzombek. these churches are cut. into. the f’ing rock. i mean they are all one solid piece of rockness. and that is just the beginning, there is a crazy water tables story involved. the whole thing is insane. you can read about it here.

ps. people that would have enjoyed this way too much [other than me]: colin rowe, rudolf arnheim. which is odd, if you think of this [sorry—jstor link, login required—link goes to mmj’s article on wolfflin in assemblage 23].

also, reminds me of giambattista nolli. speaking of which, check out the interactive nolli map of rome from the university of oregon.

Filed under: ., jarzombek, maps, rocks, ruins,

we have always been modern

mmjmodernity equals rupture. we have always been modern.

bl: we have never been modern.

pe: we have never been modern, but now i’ll be modern. or rather, post-functionalist (c.1976).

rk: actually, you are being poststructuralist. or if you like, postmodern.

cg: but modernity is medium specificity!

ta: yes. and the only way to resist reification is to resist those culinary delights. only where the appearance of enjoyment is lacking is the faith in its possibility maintained.

mt: everybody is either reified or at a previous stage of nerve intensification. hence the dialectic of the avant-garde is between the sphere and the labyrinth, and both are stuck in the irrelevancy of the boudoir.

fn: manfredo. i believe you are ripping off my apollonian/dionysian impulses from the birth of tragedy.

mt: what if i am? we should forget about the avant-garde and think about the means of production anyway. and since we can’t, i’m going to go read some renaissance. buh-bye.

kmh: actually, we should think about the avant-garde as the critical, as a way of resistance [not form + not culture]

sw: but there is no reason for the critical to be negative. we should be projective. and the projective can be critical too.

mmj: discontinuous rupture happens throughout history. we have always been modern.

gwh: kids, could you keep it down? trying to sleep here.

Filed under: ., adorno, eisenman, greenberg, hays, imaginary conversations, jarzombek, krauss, latour, nietzsche, tafuri, whiting,

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