random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

three babels at sah 2012

on april 19 i presented this paper at the 2012 sah annual conference in detroit. my panel was systems and the south, chaired by htc professor and aggregate member arindam dutta.


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Faremos, então, arquitetura.

A pesar do que dizem de nos, apesar do que pensamos de nós mesmos, ainda não estamos fazendo arquitetura. arquitetura estaremos fazendo quando estivermos projetando, em equipe com outros técnicos, as grandes unidades de habitação; arquitetura estaremos fazendo, quando formos chamados para projetar as instalações das grandes centraes eletricas que terão de se espalhar por este Brasil imenso; arquitetura estaremos fazendo quando não precisarmos mais projetar, para uma D. Maria qualquer, uma casa estilo normando moderno socegado.

Ficaremos livres, então, dos conselhos de familia que nos querem impor seus gostos e culturas de almanaque; ficaremos livres das sobrinhas e filhas dos donos das terras que têm muito jeito para desenho.

Faremos, então, arquitetura.

Abelardo de Souza, “Nossa Arquitetura” in Habitat (January – March 1951), 4.

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¿guayaquil, menos ciudad?

¿guayaquil, menos ciudad?“ mi artículo sobre los problemas del crecimiento horizontal de guayaquil está en el número 36 de

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ne/sah at mit

i’ll be presenting this paper at the 34th meeting of the new england chapter of the society of architectural historians, on 18 February 2012 at mit.

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sopa strike

this site was part of the #sopastrike

sopa strike

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Hello world!

I’m thinking of migrating to wordpress. Until then, my blog is here

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shelter as symbol

architecture—and the expanded, overlapping disciplines of urban planning, art, and other types of cultural production—has played a prominent role in the development of the occupy movement. from tahrir square—a protest known primarily for the name of its site, an urban square—to the acampadas—encampments, meaning the act of camping out, of settling a shelter on the outdoors—the occupations of 2011 have been very much based on the appropriation of space as the vehicle for protest.

because the basic need for shelter has prompted some of the occupations in the us—houses foreclosed, houses without people and people without homes—settling usually private activities in the public realm takes on a special poignancy. by displaying the private act of dwelling on the public realm, protestors have made visible the disparities and inequalities of the system. the problems generated by dealing with homeless people trying to find a refuge at occupy camps only highlight these disparities.

however, it is important to distinguish this type of conflictive appropriation from more phenomenological discourses of clearing space and making place. in the excitement of the protests, some critics have seen occupy as an argument for more heideggerian strategies, without understanding that the tactics of the movement have been, from the start, discursive, argumentative, and political—and therefore incompatible with such objectives. that is, physical occupation has been one of many tactics of occupying different types of space (including the space of the media, and digital space) and the movement should not be reduced to the purely physical act of bodies on the commons. in other words, the occupation has included both the physical realm of the commons (as theorized by hannah arendt) and the public realm of media (as theorized by jürgen habermas).

perhaps because of this, within these protests, the tent—a very fragile, small shelter—has gone beyond its utilitarian role to become the symbol of the movement. for now i’ll end with some examples of tent tactics:

the beautiful floating tents of occupy cal at uc berkeley, on 18 november 2011

ows marched to duarte plaza using lit tents as their banners on 20 november 2011

protesters were asked to pitch a tent in their own lawns as symbolic protest by occupy la around 30 nov 2011:

the wonderful dancing tents of melbourne confused the hell out of police on 3 dec 2011.

the night after occupy boston got evicted, the general assembly was held at the boston common. the crowd had mixed feelings until someone brought out a tent—this tent was not evicted! it was all a bit ridiculous and sentimental, but also very direct. yes, they didn’t take it all. yes, we will still occupy. 

occupy boston makes a miniature tent city in front of the fed on 24 december 2011—they got evicted!

finally, the movement to occupy symbolically by pitching a tent in your own private space has been reinforced with these diy tiny tents. i like this one occupying an atm:

as the movement hunkers down to strategize over the winter, there is some time to reflect on what has happened and what comes next. i’d like to say that what comes next has to do with going from symbol to action—architecture as protest, is it possible? can architecture ever truly be revolutionary? some say no. yet at the same time, following chantal mouffe, architecture always inevitably has a political dimension—it is for us to decide which one.

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felices fiestas 2011-2012!

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lane lines

cambridge recently repaved and repainted its lanes. i keep biking past them and loving how the lanes have an inverse hierarchy to the fragility of transportation—that is, pedestrian lanes > bike lanes > car lanes. plus, my inner formalist loves that negative space.

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on slums and farms

the recent urbanism wars have focused on the problems of urban and suburban united states. however, on a broader scope, the globe is facing more pressing problems in slum growth and rural abandonment. how these problems are related is an example on how discussions between new and landscape urbanism should be rerouted into more productive conversations.

slums,* or to be precise, illegal settlements, are often romanticized as sites of individual entrepreneurship and spontaneous growth. they are actually examples of ruthless big (illegal) business where the few take advantage of the many. i’ll be specific and address the situation i’m more familiar in (though hardly an expert). in guayaquil, illegal settlements have been developed by a few savvy individuals, who have organized private land takeover under the premise that unproductive land must be reverted to the needy (details in spanish here). however valid these claims might be, this stolen land is then sold off, usually to rural migrants looking for opportunities they lack in the countryside. slums are privatized ventures, where everything is sold at a profit: public transportation and infrastructure comes later, as city halls start grappling with the needs of these unplanned areas. the profit made in such operations in not only economic: the control over these large populations also gives these land traffickers enormous electoral power, and many of them have gone on to weigh in in presidential elections or even participate as local candidates.

the other side of this problem is the diminishing rural workforce. in a primarily agricultural country, large areas of high premium land remain uncultivated. years of abandonment have perpetuated the idea that the countryside holds no future. recent increased attention to medium and small-sized communities holds some promise, but land ownership is still a complicated problem—too few own too much, leading to unsustainable models in which the land either sits unused or demands a pattern of work force exploitation that seems (at least from the outside) closer to medieval feudalism.

we know that the problems of the city are tied to the problems of the countryside—it’s just basic logic. but migrations don’t stop there—the problems of the ‘third world’ (compromise quotations—can’t think of suitable word much as i dislike this one) are tied to those of the ‘first.’ or did you think we’re migrating north for the weather?

* let’s not call them favelas—they are favelas in brazil, villas miseria in argentina, pueblos jovenes in peru, invasiones in ecuador. the generalized use of the word favela is regrettable.

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