Authors Changing Authority -Part II

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.”
Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” 2008.

I began the last article at the first ‘transition’ of communication systems: from oral to written, which happened about 5000 years ago; and I ended up somewhere around the second recognised transition, toward the printing press and the expansion of literacy from its monastic custodians, to scholars, and then the professions.

This post will be about the third transition -which we find ourselves amidst- from print to “computer-mediated” communication, and like the last post, I’ll specifically address how this might be played out in professional and organisation structures.  To cap it off, I’ll explain the empowering usefulness of “critical discourse analysis”, which essentially deals with the analysis and scrutiny of ‘discourses’ (conversations, texts, documents) in order to understand that ‘discursive context’ (ie, when you ‘talk shop’), making it possible to enact change using language, and texts –written by authors.

The reason I’m personally interested in this, as I alluded to in the first part, is that I am undertaking research in the methods of change in the institutions which are responsible for architectural education.

I’ll pick things up again around 1980, when commercial and professional environments undergo massive change because of the implementation of computer processing.  New workplace patterns emerge such as multi-authored documents, non-sequential writing, and multi-modal writing (hand-written and digital working documents), each with particular effects on authors.

Multi-authored documents (such as complicated proposals for funding) could be written non-sequentially (writing in independant segments, rather than start-to-finish) and collaboratively (often having very little contact with collaborators).  Importantly, these authors begin to perceive of their audience (readers) differently, and they begin losing their sense of possessive authorship (ownership).  They realise they are writing for their editor, rather than the targeted audience, which gives rise to an increase in ‘nominalisations’ (vague, generic, ‘normal’ terms) which flood commercial and institutional texts.  They became the mission statements, company bi-lines and corporate banners that make you feel like you’ve read something important.

“What We Stand For: Our Core Beliefs and Values
• Objectivity is the substance of intelligence, a deep commitment to the customer in its forms and timing.”

That’s from the CIA, a gem plucked out by Don Watson in his book ‘Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language’.  He lays out the best nominalisations: accountability, teamwork, commitment, continuous improvement, adapting to our customer needs… blah blah blah.

What is important though –and is an incredible achievement of the corporate world– is that this device became remarkably powerful.  A survey of ‘average’ writers in a corporate environment were found to actually increase the frequency and use of nominalisations when they were addressing or writing for a more senior member of management, or important clients.  When they wrote for an audience ‘below’ their level, they used less.  Ambiguity meant power.

This is reflected in professional rhetoric when a survey of 200 medical articles (across 10 years, by J.Z. Segal, 1993) reveals that authority is obtained through the high use of citation and nominalisations.  This is probably very familiar to anybody who attempts to read formal academic writing in any discipline. You’ll recognise it as ‘wank’, or in the corporate world, as ‘bullshit’.

“Over the coming twelve months we will be enhancing our product offering to bring you new features and access to innovative funds. You can be confident that our commitment is resolute, to make changes that investor’s (sic) value. -Insurance company newsletter.”
This is how Don Watson kicks off his book. Brilliant.

Authors Writing for Change

Authors are empowered by writing, making it possible to enact social change.  This is a position that ‘critical discourse analysis’ makes possible, arguing that by writing we not only reflect social systems, but continually reconstitute them.

“Legally, but also socially and culturally, modern organiszations and professions are the products of written communication.” Faber, 270.

If authors understand the type of writing they’re doing, and ‘where’ they are doing it, they can subversively effect change, by constructing a type of authority.  I think the type of authorship (and authority) I’m talking about now relates to the older term auctor (discussed in the previous article) because it is more about ‘allowing something to grow’, ‘enlarging’, which is also connected to augere (‘to augment’).  Authors plant subversive seeds of change within existing texts or organisations when they are destabilized, to augment change from within -even if they are originally external to them.

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.” -Faber, 271.

Conveniently, Brenton Faber explains this process using the recent commodification of higher education as a case study.  Through the 1990s, Universities were struggling with their image, they could not clearly say (or write) what it was that they did, and so the ‘system’ became destabilised from a discursive point of view, as well as a very practical one.  What happened was a ‘transitional change’ from a sophistic and rhetoric based structure, to a corporate and capitalistic one.  It is succinctly captured by the phrase “education market.”

So how does ‘discursive change’ actually work at a practical level?  Essentially the agent or new author subversively engages in the discourse by hybridising a new genre of language with the old one.  The new language (which is actually in conflict with the old one) is carefully choreographed to be palatable to the existing members of the organisation (otherwise it will be rejected outright), and is then steadily grown or augmented.  The process is so powerful because the instability of the structure is precisely the rationale for the implementation of a new structure, which is administered through discourse.

“…this concept of transitional change occurs in increments or linked steps as prior existent knowledge is disrupted and eventually displaced by small additions that ultimately build into new formations.” Faber, 270.

Faber points out the remarkable clarity of the current Higher Education “co-hyponyms”, which cleverly make new words interchangeable with old ones, even though their meanings and implications are completely different:

knowledge becomes skills, and competencies
students become retailers
facilities become resources
administration become management
education becomes training.

The rationale for this change is hard to argue against, as it coincided with massive governmental pressure on University funding.  The resulting corporate commodification of Higher Education becomes a stronger discourse to defend, ironically, by implementing a discourse based on strategic ambiguity and the absence of precision (Faber, 275 from Connell and Galasinksi, 1998)
The exemplar nominalisation becomes “excellence”.

This is not a pessimistic article.  Critical discourse analysis offers an empowering strategy of discursive wariness, because it recognises (and argues) that these contested structures (which is sometimes calls genre’s or orders of discourse) are formal, everyday, and most importantly improvisational.  As I began, and as discourse theory upholds, writing reflects and constitutes social systems.  It is a fluid structure, which is continually contested, and is subject to community regulation, making it a powerfully democratic system, so long as its members are not subversively suppressed.

Authors Changing

The current transition to, and maturing of ‘computer-mediated’ communication is obviously significant for the author, and for my subject of interest, architecture education.  Systems and practices which attempt to stabilise discourses (whether they are rules, policy, curricula, accreditation criteria) seem to be under a cultural pressure (maybe what Faber calls community regulation) to adapt to practices which undermine their perceived stability, such as versioning, hypertext, blogging, crowd-funding, print-on-demand, and unprecedented degrees of collaborative writing (Wikipedia).

Institutions are slow-moving beasts though, with a stubborn vocabulary, and even the pups are complicit. Architects for example, somehow remain solitary authors, despite ridiculous odds, even despite themselves.

In a Studio session held at a well known architects office yesterday, two students referred to one of the office’s projects as being by the office’s Director (after whom the office is named), the name was even used in the possessive sense of ‘his building’, luckily the namesake wasn’t in the room, unluckily two other –completely unacknowledged– senior architects in the office were. Cringe.  I also heard an architect (at University) describe buildings with no more information than the office who designed them, “His Building”.  Authorship (dubious in the case of a building anyway) in this case was more important than programme, scale, or any description. Cringe.  The audience was not only expected to know what office they were talking about (acronyms and abbreviations are commonplace), but to know exactly what buildings they had designed.  I suspect we were also supposed to be impressed by the speakers knowledge (and our relative stupidity), which is another great strategy for protecting a body of knowledge.
Ironically, my silence so far in both of these situations is complicit to the discourse I pretend to be resisting, because “it is important to acknowledge that disciplinarity per se does not rest on a commonly accepted body of rules, but rather is definied by shifting frontiers between negotiable terms, appropriations, misunderstandings and misalignments that nevertheless allow certain identities to emerge.
-Architecture and Authorship. 2007

It seems important then, for myself at least, to understand a discourse like ‘architecture education’ and ‘the architecture profession’ more thoroughly, and become both adept and acrobatic in its everyday negotiation and improvisation.  If only to be more wary, strategically wanky, and honest about my bullshit, because everybody’s shit stinks.

I have essentially summarised ideas from the following articles, most of which are in Bazerman’s fantastic reader.  My referencing above does not do them justice at all, in fact I am more of an ‘editor’ than an author here, but I suspect you would rarely picked up a book with so many vague and possibly boring words in the title, so I felt obliged to share what I think are quite relevant ideas, particularly as a Freeranger.
Reading Material:

“History of the Book, Authorship, Book Design, and Publishing” by David Finkelstein, in:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text.
Edited by Charles Bazerman.  Taylor & Francis, 2008.

Anne Beaufort, “Writing in the Professions” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Dorothy E. Smith, Catherine F. Schryer, “On Documentary Society” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Architecture and Authorship
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner, Rolf Hughes. Black Dog Publishing, 2007

Death Sentence: The decay of public language
Don Watson. Knopf, 2003.

 

the Open City : an experiment in design and living

 

La Ciudad Abierta de Ritoque is a settlement of 270 hect. located 16 kms. north of Valparaiso, Chile. The land includes extensive dune fields, wetlands and includes an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, a small beach, streams and fields. It was founded in 1970 by poets, philosophers, sculptors, painters, architects and designers. Today it is still inhabited by many of the original founders and other like-minded people/families. The students of the architecture department at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso co-participate actively in it’s ongoing construction through workshops, dinners and other events. Living in the “Open City” means that you are a partner of the Corporación Cultural Amereida and thus must carry a certain amount of detachment from “your” home, because nobody owns the buildings that they inhabit. Every inhabitant gives input to the construction of the houses and “your” particular home is understood as a gift. The original idea was to establish a type of a city, but not in relation to the number of people who live there, but in relation to its structure, which thus contains the unusual, the des-order. The land chosen is as fluid as the dunes and such at the mercy of the wind.

What’s going wrong in Christchurch?

The NZ Government has finally released their plans for a solution to the temporary housing problems affecting residents after the February 22 Earthquake.    The announcement is proof that the Government is successfully doing a miraculous job of delivering housing that is expensive, slow and low quality.  There is a well known management triangle  for project delivery that states that projects can be quick, cheap and good quality, but can only be two of these.  The government is proving innovative in its ability to fail at all three.  Lets look at this in detail.

Low quality design.

The design above is ripped from the article here on stuff is by one of the three official suppliers NZ Transportable Units who normally build cottages for farms and granny flats.   While the proposals will no doubt pass the low requirements on detailing and materials embedded in the NZ Building codes the above 10 x 5 design quickly reveals some peculiar planning.

  • no laundry,
  • it appears that the kitchen is completely walled in,
  • you can’t get to the 2nd bedroom without climbing over the couch,
  • the master bedroom 3/4 the length of the single bed,
  • inefficient separation of kitchen and bathroom plumbing.

Expensive

Each of these units is going to cost $85,00o, which might sound cheap for a house over ones head.  However, this unit is only 50 square metres. That’s a square metre rate of $1,700.   I recently saw an ad in Melbourne for a 456m2 house for $477,000 costing $1056 per square meter.  If we include the dollar difference that means the so called ‘Emergency’ Housing been proposed for Christchurch is twice as expensive as cheap housing in Melbourne suburbs.   The Government has set aside $38 million to cover the construction costs, however families will be charged between $170 and $336 per week to live in the houses, and will have to pay for their own installation costs if on their own land.   In Japan families have been given rent free use of the accommodation for two years.  The median income in New Zealand is around $33,000 per year, or around $667 per week.   Housing Stress or rent related economic pressure is said to become critical when a family spends more than 1/3 of their income on the housing.    So its clear that for many families with multiple dependents living around or below median income in NZ the rental prices being charged by the government for these houses will add to their pressures and problems rather than alleviate them.

Late

In Japan construction of temporary housing had started within two weeks of the disaster, in New Zealand it is now over two months and contractors for the job have only just been announced.   Show homes are promised to be constructed by mid may,  10-12 weeks after the disaster and still weeks and months away from the actual housing.  Japan is heading towards summer and Christchurch is heading towards what promises to be a cold and dark winter.

Problem

The source of this mismanagement is two fold.  Firstly I think the Government and the contractors are missing the crucial difference between Emergency housing and reconstruction. Emergency housing is often expensive but needs to be quick and the requirements are ones of shelter and safety.  Reconstruction is usually quite slow, can be cheaper if well thought out,  but needs to address future community needs and engage with proper planning and community involvement.  The proposed house designs are just low quality versions of what is built for permanent use in NZ and this doesn’t seem to suit anyone much. The second problem is a cultural and leadership one that sees no potential for innovation. It illustrates not only a complete lack of imagination, but also an ideology that is resistant to using expertise and international precedent.  NZ ran a state housing design competition in 2009 with many interesting and well thought through proposals which are now begin ignored. Is a nation with the technological skills to lead the world in movie making and boat design really incapable of producing anything more than the dreary and depressing designs currently proposed?

 

 

 

 

 

Microcostas

Despite being a designer, its not actually that often that I see something and am instantly swayed by it.  This coastal decking by Spanish Firm Guallart Architects on the coast between Valencia and Barcelona got me however.  Its got all sorts of nice rational behind its form and design.  But for me it hit the sublime magic button that transcends all that stuff.  Stunning work.  Images from their site: www.guallart.com

The Unaccounted

A cross-posting to re:speak, but there’s a freerange under-current to my thoughts on the survey below, which documents the trajectory of architecture graduates in New Zealand who seem to be disappearing from the coutnries official Register of Architects.

Some background to familiarise you with the architecture profession in NZ.  In NZ, practicing as an Architect (to design, document, consult on, manage contracts with, administer contracts, and supervise the construction of buildings) is legally protected by the Registered Architects Act (2005), which essentially ensures that Registered Architects comply to ethical, professional and quality standards in their practice, ensuring that when you employ a Registered Architect (or simply ‘Architect’ -which is also covered by this Act) you can expect a professional service (like a registered Nurse, licensed Doctor or Lawyer, etc etc).  You can of course participate in the construction and design of the built environment without being a registered architect, and there are organisations which represent these designers (like ADNZ, Architectural Designers New Zealand Inc) -but like I say, you can’t call yourself an Architect.  Anyhow, if say, like me, you get the idea you want to be an architect when you grow up, and your twelve, you study physics and maths, and maybe design, or art, at highschool, and you look at going to one of our three schools, because to become an Architect, you need to get a recognised Degree (now a Masters of Architecture -used to be a 5yr Bachelor Degree) from an accredited programme (accredited by the Australasian Architecture Schools Association, who are in line with the International Union of Architects – but the whole accreditation thing is another story – needless to say, they have to tick their disciplinary boxes.   So, with your degree in-hand, and presuming you still want to be an Architect [this is where my story deviates], you must prepare yourself for the Registration Examination, which grants you the coveted place on the Register.  A prerequisite for this exam is at least 140 hours of practice experience, all categorised/allotted across a number of areas of competency (and there are MANY), and other documented cases which exemplify your skills and capability of being an architect, and you have to satisfy a committee at interview, and you have to have some money to pay for the application fee (incidentally, this fee tripled recently).  Anyway, if you employ a Registered Architect, they are guaranteed to be an on-to-it muthafucka.

So the discussion below is based around a survey recently published which looks at the activity of architecture graduates and the architects register for the last 20 years, as well as looking at gender, and also throws in some stats on membership to the architects representative institution, the NZIA.

It’s a very nice survey, with some really interesting outcomes, you can download it too, see the links below.

There are a few lines of trickery or subversion which have been alluded to in another post, regarding how one is active in our wonderful discipline/practice, but one statistical outcome which I am glad to have my hands on now – so that I can ponder more accurately – is that only 24% of the total architecture graduates between 1987 and 2008 are now on the Architects Register.  Its a loaded stat, but the author re-estimates a more accurate ‘representative’ figure is maybe 38%.  I’m really interested in the Unaccounted 62%-76%, not so much to dream up elaborate and idealised illegal architects or whatnot, but to consider how this figure could be fed-back to schools who craft their curriculums towards an appreciation of architecture, the professional practice of architects, and a liberal comportment for ethics, representation, craft, discourse, community, etc…

Anyway, that’s a mean preface, here goes:

Errol J Haarhoff, Professor of Architecture at the University of Auckland, has published a new survey of NZ architecture graduates, revealing some great relationships between the architectural institutions of NZ.

“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (Auckland University, 2010) extends Haarhoff’s previous, and similar, survey completed in 2001 – and if you’re interested, extends two older surveys of Australasian architecture graduates undertaken by Peter Johnson and Susan Clarke in 1979 and 1987, and supplements Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’ comprehensive survey of architecture education across Australasia (see the end of the article for these references).  Fortunately, the study can be downloaded from the NZRAB here [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (look on the left-hand column for the link).

I don’t want to go into a full analysis or discussion of the findings here (but I encourage you to), but I did want to point out a few interesting statistics which I had always wondered about, but never really knew the numbers…

Firstly, and most striking is a comparison Haarhoff makes between graduating (architecture) students and those Registering with the NZRAB (the New Zealand Registered Architects Board [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=1] administers the Registered Architects Act 2005, and maintains the architects register, obviously), and he finds that in 2009, only 24% of graduates (from the 3 NZ schools) are Registered Architects.  Statistically, this is a drop from 30% which was achieved in his 2001 survey.

Clearly this is a complicated statistic.  Firstly, Ostwald and Williams (2008) show a current trend in our schools for international students to make up about 20% of the population, it’s possible a considerable proportion of these students emmigrate upon completion.  Another consideration is that more recent years will obviously drop off in registrations (given the 140 weeks of experience required).  Haarhoff also suggests that the registration itself has changed, especially with the introduction of the 2005 Registered Architects Act.  I won’t communicate the full translation of all that here, but Haarhoff does suggest the ‘real’ figure might be around 38%.

Even so, a quick scan of the results shows that never has more than half of a graduating class registered as an architect.

Haarhoff also goes on to show that even when considering the trail-off of registrations in the last five years (because of the experience required in practice), there is still a significant drop in the proportion of graduates who register, given the fact that the average annual cohort of graduates across NZ hitting the scene has jumped from 115 to 165 (43% increase, most of which is attributed to Unitec’s new programme).

A few more factors are discussed by Haarhoff, namely that graduates may now be progressing through practice careers without feeling the necessity for registration, achieving fulfilling working environments alongside other registered architects.  Another critical aspect which Haarhoff confirms, is that a disproportionate number of females never register (where graduate proportions are approximating 50% – although strangely all three schools show a drop in this over the last 2 years – while only 18% of registered architects are female).

Undiscussed here, but really interesting, is Haarhoff’s more detailed analysis of gender in the profession, as well as some curious insight into membership to the New Zealand Institute of Architects – a really great piece of cross-institutional research (which suggests for example that there are 300 unaccounted Registered Architects who aren’t Architect Members of the NZIA).

Unfortunately -and reasonably, given the breadth and value of this survey- it is still very difficult to trace where the architectural graduates really might be.  This is a piece of research that I think would be very very valuable.  It would be a bit of a headache to find everyone (1,850 of us perhaps), but reasonably empirical right?  I suspect there are a few interesting factors which account for the apparent 76% of us Unregistered (or 62%, or 1,850, by Haarhoff’s conservative figure).

1. We travel overseas.  A million New Zealander’s live outside of New Zealand, which by my proportionate calculations of registered architects to population, means about 440 of those ex-pats could be architects.

2. Recent diversification (or ‘fragmentation’!) in the discipline (in the last decade even) – into urban design, city planning, digital fabricating, and all sorts of hybrid practices, means a fair few may never benefit from registering as architects.

3. We research.  Haarhoff correctly identifies, although never puts a figure on, those who follow academic careers in architecture (or other related disciplines).

4. We change careers.  This one I quite love, and although we can’t all be Italians and imagine studying architecture as a generalist education in worldliness –or more accurately, convince others to– I am pleased that there are architecturally educated peers out there, because I believe there is an ontology, and a discipline to architecture education, something important to Being, which is not necessarily about registering as an architect.

Images are Copyright 2010, Errol J Haarhoff.
Email: e.haarhoff@auckland.ac.nz

Errol J Haarhoff
“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” Auckland University, 2010.

Peter Johnson & Susan Clarke.
“Architectural Education in the Commonwealth – A Survey of Schools”
1979 & 1987, University of Sydney.

Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’
“Understanding Architectural Education in Australasia”
2008, NSW, ALTC.

Cities of desire and anxiety: urban impressions from Japan

Part 1. Exoticism and the city

Travel can be a strange and inexplicable thing. Every time I return to Japan, I’m constantly intrigued by how fascinatingly different it is as a place on most spheres of life; i.e. culturally, socially, economically and architecturally. As an unashamed tourist armed with my brochures, maps and pamphlets, I’m inevitably drawn to Japan through an exotic eye and it is this exoticism and the idea of what that means for the architecture of cities that I’m most interested in illustrating throughout the following parts.

Part 2. Gardens

As a city, Kyoto is well contained within its semi-enclosed basin topography. The street grid and buildings are located mostly (if not all) on the flat and for this reason one can immediately gain an appreciation for how the tree-covered hills frame the city and add legibility to the north, east and west. I was told that the belt of greenery is more or less a reflection of the municipal government’s intention to preserve the surrounding hills for cultural and historic reasons – in some cases dedicated temple grounds. Most of the temples and its gardens inhabit areas of sanctuary to the north, east and west – between the wooded hills and city proper: a no-man’s land for spiritual connection, but close enough to the city to sense its physicality. In each axial direction, subway lines work in tandem with the seamlessly efficient bus system infrastructure to provide connections to the various tourist experiences. At first instance, Kyoto seems like a virtual city of gardens: a ‘Tourist world-city’ where experience is seemingly specifically engineered for the enjoyment of its visitors. To my surprise, not far away from my mother’s apartment was the ‘Garden of Fine Arts’ designed by architect Tadao Ando and completed in 1994 (see fig. 1). It’s a curious enclave just off the main road in Kamigamo, consisting of a series concrete ramps that lead visitors through a journey of viewing large recreations of well known art works (apparently the recreation of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement is approximately the same size as the original in the Sistine Chapel), carefully reproduced on large porcelain panels: it claims to be the ‘world’s first outdoor art garden’ (see fig. 2).

Continue reading “Cities of desire and anxiety: urban impressions from Japan”

Julie Mehretu and exploring the syncretic

Julie Mehretu is an Ethiopian-born artist (from Addis Ababa -coincidental link to a quick post on Freerange on Mulatu Astatke also hailing from Addis Ababa), who advanced her studies in Fine Art in the US and now works and lives in New York (generally).

I am continually drawn to her work, which is not accidentally architectural: she speaks very well on the subject of her work as studies/cosmologies/maps of cities and other tectonic and cultural spaces/structures.  I danced with the idea (and still do, often) of using this work in my architectural research, but whether or not I weave this into an academic enquiry, it remains a formative series of works in my worldview of architecture, and the greater ‘expanded field’ of things/worldliness.

Palimpsest (Old Gods)(Please click to get the super-size-me size).

I’ve recently acquired a monograph ‘Black City’ which is the first to publish a substantial collection of her work, past and present, and it is simply amazing.  I’ve selected a few of my favourites here, but you can view some of her work here, at White Cube who represent her, and here is a video/interview with Mehretu in Berlin, where her latest exhibition ‘Grey Area’ was shown (at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin) which has now travelled to the Guggenheim New York if you’re there, go see it!

An interpretation that I dallied with for a while, and hope to re-animate in the future, is the notion of syncretism, which refers to an ‘attempt at reconciliation of two opposing or different principles, practices, or parties…’, in my reading and understanding (or at least the part that I enjoy about it) is the idea of an equilibrium which nontheless sustains its aspects of tension. This idea not surprisingly was something that I was reading in architecture schools –my subject of interest– how an academic is responsible for simultaneously critiquing a body of knowledge, whilst disseminating it, or how an architecture student grapples with the hypothetical studio project (with all its fantasy, experimentation, failure, risk etc etc), whilst knowingly attempting to replicate and learn principles of the real world.  They are contradictory objectives, but they have to be maintained.

This is clearly not an idea exclusive to architectural education or architecture or architects, which is why I mentioned my deep interest in this work as a framework or doorway into an expanded field of thinking and being.  The obvious subject of some works in particular address the City, and it is immediately obvious that these works are grappling with the coded, multi-layered, crumbling, ghosting, dynamic, etc etc, representation of the City.  They are both fragmented, but approach wholeness; they surround the void with speeding and violent (or beautiful) mass and lines and points; they are architectural, but never building; they are constructed, of deconstructions; they attempt new meaning by obfuscating prior meaning… and they are huge.  The Seven Acts of Mercy (pictured here) is over 6 metres long, and nearly 3m tall.


I think these works probably explain more about me than I have been able to explain them to you about architecture (or the City), but I still wanted to share.  I’d love to hear from anyone in NY who could make it along to her show, it’s open til October I think.

The rise of Urban Farms

An urban Farmer called Will Allen in Milwaukee has just been named on Time magazines list of 100 most influential people. Times are surely a-changing when a proposal for multi-story urban farms is getting such international attention. Allen received a $US500,000 Genius grant from the Catherine T. McArthur Foundation, he is now trying to raise 7 to 10 million dollars to make  a 5-story 2000 square metre prototype.

It’s time to stop dreaming and start building, Allen said.

Allen, 61, for years has been calling attention to the widespread existence of “food deserts” in cities across America, where whole communities lack access to fresh, nutritious, affordable food, and underserved populations have high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.Full Article here.

I reckon this is awesome and if anyone has a spare 7 million lying around this seems like a good cause.  Freerange 2 touched on a lot of issues relating to this with its theme of Gardening and Violence. Have a look.

Archigram Archive Project might enliven Architectural speculation.

A few years ago now a small bunch of wellington architecture students and recent grads flew up to Auckland, excited by the prospect of a Conference about a radical Architecture Student Congress that happened in the 70s in Auckland.  There are a number of stories that have unraveled from this event, but a particularly memorable presentation that day was from Kate Heron (or was it Sam Hardingham, i can never remember, shamefully) from the University of Westminster, who had been working alongside David Greene -a poet and member of the Archigram group- anyhow, she presented on a particular project called the Invisible University -which we were invited to contribute ideas to (the presentation included a recital of a poem from Greene, which was particularly great, and should probably be posted here…I have it somewhere).

A lasting impression was the excitement that a revitalised and active member of an incredibly famous group (in the architecture community) was to some extent continuing its work some 30 years later, in a reasonably radical way.

Westminster University has just published the Archigram Archival Project online. It is an amazingly comprehensive digital archive of the entire Archigram oeuvre, containing hundreds of projects and thousands of staggering images produced by the group in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Almost 10,000 items are included in this archive, including digital versions of drawings, collages, paintings, photographs, magazines, articles, slides and multi-media material, accompanied by original texts by Archigram wherever these are available. Around half of these items belong to the 202 projects currently listed and given project numbers by Dennis Crompton in the Archigram Archives. The rest are supporting and contextual material such as letters, photos, texts and additional projects provided by the depositors.”

What I find interesting given this new availability is the possibility for a renewed enthusiasm and experimentation in architectural representation, especially from the student body, which in large, produces increasingly frigid architectural representations –a tangential discussion to be had relates to the uptake of digital representation in architectural practice, which in my mind is still largely in a state of clumsy infancy in most conventional architecture schools and practices: the uptake seems too excited by production rather then quality-.

What I find interesting is the conceptual and intellectual rigour and consistency applied throughout the body of work, which radically attempted to imagine future conditions for modernity, the city, the suburb (and so on, the breadth is phenomenal), and to a huge extent has been proven as fairly accurate.  Commodity-fetishism, virtual nomads, techno-environmentalism and invisible network cities are just a handful of ideas flooding through the work, which remember, was created when only snippets of these conditions were evident -the mobile phone was really only taken up in the 70s.  In some ways the work might be framed as evolutionary, exploring and fantasizing about the things they saw around them, and developing those aspects they thought would persist.
A few favourites:

Sin Centre

“Entertainments Palace’ on the site of the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London. Originally ‘failed’ as student final thesis project at the Regent Street Polytechnic

The Polytechnic failed the scheme and continued to do so several times even after its prominent display at MOMA and published status as an epoch-making and original technic icon.”

This makes me think of the stories heard (in nz…a few years back) of students being failed in final years of study, only to retort that the university wasn’t able to argue its case based on the assessment criteria, and eventually were forced to pass the student under legal presuure.  I wonder what it would take to fail these days, sure you could do it by being crap -maybe, but it would be interesting to see which directions you could take architecture that might be considered un-architectural enough to be denied by the university.  I know I tried… and there’s plenty to be analysed there, but I havn’t been bothered yet.

Plug In University Node

“The University Node was an exercise to discover what happened to the various notions of gradual infill, replacement and regeneration of parts on to a Plug-in City megastructure: but with a specific kind of activity.”

Instant City

“Instant City forms part of a series of investigations into mobile facilities which are in conjunction with fixed establishments requiring expanded services over a limited period in order to satisfy an extreme but temporary problem.”

Sorry about the clumsy formatting, but i like how hungry the images get all over the website.

Love it.

Room at the Table? Women and Architecture.

I recently made a list of ten architects that I admire, and well I guess I shouldn’t be, I was somewhat surprised when I realized that they were all male. (and almost entirely white, but I’ll leave that for another day).  I mentioned this to a colleague recently and he wisely pointed out that it wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t really go to architecture schools, and we now live in more enlightened times, but that it takes a long to time ‘to-get-to-the-top-if-you-want-a-sausage-roll’ in Architecture.  Meaning its takes a good 30 or more years of practice in architecture to achieve the positions of authority that lead to big commissions and important publications.   I remember making a comment along similar lines a few years ago to a female friend that surely the role of men in feminism these days is just really make sure we aren’t getting in they way, rather than actively campaigning for things.  She didn’t take to kindly to this, and wrote me a poem in protest!  I’ve never quite worked out what she thought I am supposed to do.

I just read a great article by Architect Denise Scott Brown who discusses what is like to be married to a Architect while they work and live together, and how her husband receives almost all of the recognition.  Denise Scott Brown and her husband Mrs. Robert Venturi wrote what is one of the seminal books of the late twentieth century in architecture, Learning from Las Vegas.

“When Bob and I married, in 1967, I was an associate professor. I had taught at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Berkeley, and had initiated the first program in the new school of architecture at UCLA. I had tenure. My publication record was respectable; my students, enthusiastic. My colleagues, mostly older than I, accorded me the same respect they showed each other, and I had walked the same corridors of power they had (or thought I had).

The first indication of my new status came when an architect whose work I had reviewed said, “We at the office think it was Bob writing, using you name.” By the time we wrote Learning from Las Vegas, our growing experience with incorrect attributions prompted Bob to include a note at the beginning of the book asking that the work and ideas not be attributed to him alone and describing the nature of our collaboration and the roles played by individuals in our firm. His request was almost totally ignored. A body of theory and design in architecture apparently must be associated by architecture critics with an individual; the more emotional their criticism, the stronger is its focus on one person.

A few years ago at a conference we organized a very interesting conversation emerged about how we select the 20 or so international speakers we were inviting.  (Incidentally I think we actually invited Scott-Brown) We didn’t really have a system apart from interestingness until about 2/3s of the way through we noticed that almost all the men were speakers.  I raised this issue at a meeting, with my thoughts been that we should focus on speakers that would balance out the conference from then on.  Interestingly a few of the females at the table rejected this notion as been inversely sexist because we were then selecting women based on gender rather than skill or interest.   I’ve never quite got my head around how to deal with that problem either.

In principle my personal position is that the discriminations against women (not to mention racial) are very deep rooted in our cultures and also in the past.  Correcting behaviours from our past that we now see as abhorrent is not a simple or easy process.  Changing a law or even a perception does not necessarily signal a shift in behavioral change.  So  I think at a points we do need to make active effort to live in the world we want to,  and not think that the current one will automatically correct itself.  I’m not sure what the best mechanisms for this are, but I suspect positive discrimination is one of them.

On a further note, I was at a meeting last night and we ended up talking about pregnancy at design firms. It turns out there were no senior women Landscape Architects with children in Melbourne that anyone could think of, and in none of the architecture firms at the table were there any senior positions held by women with children.  I find it deeply disturbing that ones gender and the very natural decision to bear children to mean such a fundamental sacrifice in ones financial and professional position.