You know how, when you fall in love, especially when it’s unrequited, and you’re too shy or too proud to actually say something, you always subtly try to steer the conversation towards that person? Just so you can finally break the barrier and let them out of your head for a minute? Just so you can make them seem a little more real? And because, frankly, anything anyone talks about is absolutely irrelevant when your mind is solely focused on one idea and one idea alone…
For the past few weeks, i went out Friday nights, got a little drunk on wonderful concoctions and when i couldn’t take it any longer, i started talking about him. Nobody really cared, and i have this looming feeling that it sounds like pretentious, pseudo-intellectual bollocks to them, but i have found him. Henry and Chuck, Mircea and Hermann, Sylvia and Anais, eat your hearts out!
Every morning, eyes still sticky with sleep, i buy my ticket and i open the book. The stories are compact, even laconic, and i finish about two by the time i reach work. Then i raise my eyes, check my watch, and i know the world is a little different today. After each story, my eyes open a little wider and the universe unveils a little more.
I have read some of them four, maybe five times, and every time, a new layer gets peeled back, and the symbols mean more than they did at the previous reading, and my head wraps itself a little tighter around his and i want to scream it from the rooftops. I have tried reading “The Gospel according to Mark” in Spanish (although i don’t speak it) because i want to know how the words sound. I’ve read it aloud, i’ve had it read to me, i’ve read it in German and i’ve read it in English, because i want to spot the differences in translation. Because every word is so heavy with meaning that an ever so subtle shift will alter the essence of the whole story. And every time i lift my gaze, i have walked across 2000 years of human history.
Reading him is riding a red-eye bus across Argentina, waking up at 3 in the morning, wiping the steam off the windows and seeing the Milky Way stretch all across the sky, one end to the other, beyond the horizon, beyond the pampa.
It’s like Kipling, Eliade and Kafka had a lovechild and it keeps telling and re-telling the same stories that humankind has been repeating since the dawn of time, and with every telling of those stories, i feel that maybe today is the day that the membrane that separates this world from something else will ripple just a little, and eventually it will break, and the magic world will pour out and nothing will be as it was.
I have always felt like a rationalist building with baroque interiors, Borges must’ve been the same… at the very least, he’s opened some windows.
Two days ago i received a phone call from my parents in Romania. Someone very close to us had died.
They tore down the last building of my Steel Works.
Not even sure if it’s worth crying over broken concrete. I am ashamed, though, that i didn’t try harder, that i didn’t really try at all.
After doing a little intervention project, it has been recommended that i send it somewhere further to maybe… sensitize someone who might have some say about the issue. The point was that inserting something of apparent value (golden!) into this wasteland would maybe prevent its destruction.They would’ve tried to protect the shiny new, and accidentally would’ve ended up saving the truly precious. It was futile, as you can imagine. And it would’ve been, because the demolition has been going on for years, and nothing short of chaining myself to a cooling tower would’ve prevented it from happening.
When i first started looking into the industrial legacy of the CSH, it was but a scenery for my architectural vanity to unfold. It was a pretext to stroke my fondness of industrial brutalism, a hypothethical problem for me to solve inside the confines of my mind and to make pretty images of. Its imminent destruction was real, but i wouldn’t believe it. Now the last chimney has fallen, the blast broke the dam, and reality came flooding in.
And it broke my heart. Not because i was born in this town with the red ash clouds and the fuming silhouettes of the chimneys on the horizon, and not because i am aesthetically biased and predisposed to seeing the intrinsic, brute functionalist beauty of those constructions, but because the cultural and industrial heritage will be irreversibly lost!
By destroying something as colossally important as this, we are denying, nay, we are erasing an essential part of who we are and what brought us here. We are doomed to forget that Romania used to toil, prosper, and create. Now capitalism not only forces us to dissociate from our collective past and to destroy, but it is wiping our industrial heritage off the face of the earth, teaching us to steal, lie and murder.
“Money doesn’t talk - it swears!” (attributed to Bob Dylan)
The steel mill in Hunedoara has been a continuation of an ancient tradition of iron ore extraction and processing in the carpathian area, dating back to pre-roman times. It was the raison d’etre of the entire town which grew around it. It was the primus mobile and catalyst of settlements, civilisation and urbanisation in the area. Everybody in Hunedoara had worked in the steel mill at some point in their lives - she was the great mother of everyone. Mine too.
Now i cry matricide but alas, it is too late.
Still some wonderful people are keeping the legacy alive as best as it gets, so make sure to visit and support them. https://www.facebook.com/CSHunedoara
I’m late to this party. I’m generally late for parties these days, since i was too busy getting shit done at work and *gasp* reading books-books in the evenings. Felt a little guilty about abandoning the monilogues after a few very lazy posts. There were a few things i was preoccupied with over the past weeks, eh.. months, but let me start with the beginning.
Whenever i’m stressing out, my brain has this great little mechanism to keep me from going insane - it renders me obsessed with random things, to the point that, as i lie in bed at night, instead of pondering about whatever is really worrying me, i just spin these scenarios in my head until i fall asleep.
One storyline keeps recurring. The (zombie) apocalypse.
But to be honest, i don’t care about zombies, and the reason i ever watched anything that was remotely tangent to this topic was the collateral implications of such a thing happening. I wake up one morning and everyone has vanished off the face of the earth. Surely i am not the only one fantasizing about this.
(urghlll, fuck yeah..)
The ways this pans out vary, and before i bore you to death, let’s just say i have shit figured out, as long as, for my narrative’s sake, we assume that everyone neatly turned off all the nuclear plants and other dangerous things before getting super-rabies or whatever.
What’s really interesting, though, is that i often catch myself really wishing this would happen. There are many reasons, and apart from my general misanthropy (sometimes i imagine others have survived too, and not exclusively for my um… carnal pleasure), the most predominant argument is architecture. FUCKING ARCHITECTURE, MAN!
You should know by now that deserted dystopian landscapes really shiver me timbers, shit, before starting work, i had spent most of my university life thinking about them. And boy-oh boy did i quiver on the edge on my seat during that one scene in that bond movie where the grumpy looking brit and the hot ethnic lady drive up to this (clicky for external link):
These places harbour a kind of freedom from the trivial bullshit of life. No more worrying about the recognition of others, no more lethargy, no more uselessness - just anarchy and giving limited amounts of fucks about the truly essential things in life. And possibly some kickass fashion, something between steampunk and hobo chic. I’ll call it apocalypse-punk and i can finally wear that nearly black lipstick i paid WAY too much moni-money for.
Exposed concrete buildings with tiny holes in the walls (some call them windows) are the bees’ knees and there’s no way around this. They are efficient, sustainable (say what you want, i dare you, but you can downcycle the shit out of concrete, not to mention the awesomeness of insulating concrete) and the thermal qualities of a nice massive building are incomparably better than this whole light pretty feebleness trend that won’t disappear already. If the zombie apocalypse actually occurred, we’d have no excuses left than really building in a manner that actually protects us (from wind, rain, and zombies)! Maybe plaster them, sure, plaster is cool, but there’d be no more messing around with redundant materials and wasteful techniques for cosiness’ sake. Not to mention that we’d be finally freed from parametricism’s wretched grip.
Also, Poché, yeah!
A fresh start.
It’s been often quoted that war is an architect’s best friend. And, again, not considering how positively wonderful it would be if at least a fraction of the world’s population vanished (and maybe would be replaced by cats), ever so often, the proverbial tabula rasa is the only thing facilitating the development of new ideas. Think Brasilia, Chandigarh, even the Salines in Chaux or the Hausmann Plan - every utopian experiment needed a blank patch of desert to unfold in its true greatness (regardless if it worked or not) or some major, and i mean mahaaajor paradigm switch within society.
Maybe we can even consider, like, not building for once, and instead inhabiting whatever we’ve got. But also, every big change necessitates a clean canvas (and/or a dictator - who will surely emerge to rule the survivors), lest the conservatives get their panties up in bunches, clutching their pearls over how our crazy experiments won’t do the context justice. Fuck the context! Just this once, we can be free. Sure, some pretty horrible things arose from those experiments in the past, but if the shit hits the fan, we’ve still got bigger things to worry about instead of whining over aesthetics. (ahem, the zombies, remember?!)
Everybody wins! Except the poor schmucks who didn’t make it inside my fortress in time.
Look, i’m not a monster, i love our little speck of cosmic dust as much as the next girl, and a zombie apocalypse would definitely, finally, determine us to live locally, with as few resources as possible. And we’ll have plenty of resources as soon as 90% of the population will start going “braaaaaaaaaaaains” instead of “oooiiil”. Maybe we’ll send little kids to harvest old batteries for electricity, but either way, we’ll be much better off. Right, yeah, we won’t be really able to leave the fortresses but on the other hand, news had it that pollution levels in Beijing were so high today, that the population were advised to stay inside anyway. (Mr. monilogues read about it this morning, and i don’t know where, so just, google it, okay?)
The list is far from finished, so feel free to contribute if you think i forgot something.
See you on the other side!
So here is a short selection of the work i have handed up, neatly compressed and reviewed for me to never forget what really moved me back in the day..
Since its nomination as „European Capital of Culture“ in 2007, the city of Sibiu has experienced an immense growth in artistic festivals and events. However, shortage of space to accomodate these activities makes their organisation increasingly difficult.
Existing structures on site will be cleansed and maintained. The only new addition will be a „communication“ tower, which will ensure the connection with the city and mark the entrance of the complex.
The re-use of a cluster of factory halls, located in the back of the site, is also envisioned. This structure dates from the late 1970’s, yet it has never been used. The intention is to reclaim the „virgin ruin“ and re-inhabit it as non-intrusively as possible.
A provocative mix of programs is proposed within the transformed structure, comprising more general functions intertwined with unexpected associations of different specialist cultural activities.
This will invite visitors of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to cross-polinate the same space.
.click for the bigger picture
.suggesting a minimally invasive temporary (although not succint) intervention into the site, to allow the people of hunedoara to enter the “combinat” on safe terms and reminisce of the time most of them have worked there.
.the railroad which drives through the site will allow small modules to travel through the site, the modules (being modular, including the facade system which is also modular) will be able to form bigger structures every couple of months, or whenever needed, and thereby assure a flowing stream of visitors to various events and buildings which will act as “attractors”.
.the facades are modular, as mentioned above, which allows further variation of the modules.
.the furniture and ladders to the modules are constructed to be folding (or scissoring) and therefore re-usable in a variety of situations (climbing through the boxes, on the boxes, on the rails etc.)
.the titanium-nitride-coated stainless steel boxes will act as theatrical inserts in front of the wasteland landscape of the old steel mill. bringing the steel back into the steel mill, but creating a (kind of perverted) contrast to the surroundings.
.the main purpose of the project was working with a chosen material (everything from site, to program, to material was my own choice) and orchestrating a logical and deeply researched use for named material.
.i consciously chose not to take up a zeche zollverein approach, (but rather something in a gigon+guyer type of involvement - á la museum kalkriese) since most of the existing buildings are beyond repair or rehabilitation. the railroad similarities to jagnefalt milton are mostly coincidental, though at a certain point during the project i tried to include more prosaic uses to my little boxes, eventually returning to a purely cultural level.
.the point was to let the decaying ruins get older and eventually disappear (which is cynical but true, none the less), but not without raising awareness one last time, that communist stigma or not, those industrial giants are a consistent part of a nation’s cultural heritage.
.a short accompanying stop-motion-filmchen is to be found here:
… to visit many architectural schools is to enter a time warp where the ‘anything goes’ postmodern relativism of the 1980s persists, and tutors and lecturers pursue their own interests regardless of any larger relevance. Indeed, it almost seems that the more overwhelmingly urgent the looming crises provoked by systemic collapse of interdependent aspects of our global civilisation, the more frivolous the pursuits of academe. Even sustainability is reduced to a much too narrow, peripheral subject added on to the curriculum rather than forming the core of a radically restructured education.
My issue doesn’t even reach this deep. I am barely concerned with what the future will contribute to the intrinsic changes of the profession, because frankly, maybe my secret crush Peter Eisenman was right (again!) :
“Architects cannot save the world. Architects cannot save anything. They should concentrate on what they can do, and that is building.”
This is my belief a priori so this is what i’m starting with.
The problem is that architecture school has not in the slightest prepared me for the reality of what architects must do. I have a vague understanding of what the design process entails, and i have managed well throughout my studies. I received scholarships from more than one university and i thought i knew what i was getting myself into. Alas, after seven years of getting that impression, the great kick of employment has been devastating.
Luckily, i am still involved in competitions within omg the best office ever, and i only help around with projects which are in the execution phase - as a treat - in between handups. Yet even those short (and educational) intermezzos terrify me. I would rather spend the next months, nay, years, not having a free weekend than having to draw things that some strange men will start building. Not to mention the phone calls and e-mails and site visits.
During my first weeks, i always kept a teeny wiki window open in order to translate all the strange words that were floating through the office. I speak german fluently, thankyouverymuch, but i still had to google things… a lot.
So where is this coming from? Why has nobody ever bothered to tell me how a tender plan is supposed to look like. Was i supposed to dream this up? To learn it by myself?
“But Moni” you interrupt condescendingly, “have you not paid attention? Did you not work during your studies? School won’t teach you the trade, working will”.
Yes, yes i did, asshole strawman, but while i did draw details for a short couple of months, i was mostly involved in academia, competitions, workshops and the like… To the point where designing a bathroom now gave me the fucking fearsweats for days. It’s not that any of it is so hard, mind you, but it’s … new. Essential things are still new after basically 10 years of being intensely preoccupied with architecture. Excuse me for thinking that’s mildly messed up.
I thought that after 7 years of school, where, again, i did pay attention and earned props in return, nobody showed me how to properly estimate the costs of a building. There seemed to be a general disregard in academia for anything too close to practice, as if, despite the fact that most teachers were practicing architects, building was something too trivial to mention in school. It often went as far as even dimensioning a plan was frowned upon, for aesthetic reasons, obviously.
Which is fair, but a more integral approach to all the aspects of a project wouldn’t have hurt, you know. I have chosen teachers that taught me well, and i tried very hard not to slack off - and i insist i am not an idiot, if only for the simple reason that i now feel like one about every second day or so.
Sure anyone in the office can tell me how to do a call for tender or write an e-mail to a contractor, and sure nobody but the bosses (who are brilliant, did i mention them yet?) could really explain the intricacies of the metabolist movement when confronted with it on the spot, but wouldn’t it have been great if i had known about all of these things?
I thought that by being involved with ‘proper design’, instead of say, parametric weirdness or engineering or über-intellectualized theory or art, i wasn’t maneuvering myself into a niche, but i was. It really makes me happy, talking to my boss about stairs and light and ergonomics in kitchens, and it makes me so so sad thinking about applications and tender planning and checking bills, one because that shit is boring as hell, and two, because i don’t know what it even means! Because nobody taught me! Maybe in other countries or offices architects don’t need to fulfill these tasks, but that is another story altogether..
I just never came in contact with the reality of building -and, admittedly, i wouldn’t have tried too hard to- but coming into an office and basically starting from scratch is a very bitter reminder that i worked very hard on things that are absolutely irrelevant to the real world. They are not irrelevant to the general architectural discourse, or to me, for that matter, but they don’t pay for the office’s rent either. My “poetical realism” doesn’t amount to shit when i pee myself a little at the very thought of discussing the fixtures with a planner.
Architectural education across Europe may very well be anachronistic, but it is also very far removed from reality. This is a good thing, because otherwise architects would be nothing more than technical drawers, mediocre engineers and construction site supervisors, but on the other hand, we need to be able to perform in these disciplines as well. So what to do?
I don’t know, you guys. I just… don’t… know.
There’s nothing left to do, i guess, than clenching my teeth, smiling politely, and secretly reading the LBO while nobody is watching.
Last night, Alain de Botton was calling out to his facebook friends to go online and support the building application of this thing:
anyway, i was intrigued and appalled, like, you know, when you pick at a scab.
I went on the district council’s page to see what people thought, and surprised by the huuuge amount of supportive comments, i asked de Botton on facebook what the deal was. True, i was a little incisive, but seriously you guys, look at the thing. He then deleted my comment and blocked me. No answer, nothing. You would’ve thought a philosopher, of all people, would have the rethoric skills to answer someone asking an inconvenient question - even if he was afraid of trolls.
I asked if this was supposed to be ironic, or if the general public really thinks this is what makes a pretty house. (which worries me!) If only because everyone commenting on his picture was gushing with delight and Gaudi references.
I’m not one to not understand irony, mind you, and i do sometimes like my architecture with a little tongue in its cheek. But i didn’t get this. FAT might stand tall and proud as architects who constantly challenge “taste” but some designs should not be excused just because their architects pretend they want to be subversive.
Saying “i know i’m being a dick” before saying something dickish, doesn’t magically make what you just said OK. Same rule should apply here: saying “Uh, we do ugly architecture on purpose because we’re so po-pomo” doesn’t make this building good either. There are plenty of examples of good ugly architecture, but this isn’t one of them. And just to get this one out of the way, no, an artist’s contribution does not absolve architecture from criticism!
Now back to the recurring comparison to Gaudi and Hundertwasser in the comments - labelling them crazy geniuses doesn’t suddenly place them on a pedestal where thinking and forming an opinion become redundant. Still, ask any non-architecture person about their favorite architect and see what they answer. Go on. REWE is still open - go ask the cashier. I’ll wait here. Shoo!
Welcome back! See? Normals totally eat that shit up.
Then again, though, should i really comment, as i am sitting here on my Tumblr, which only follows two other blogs - one about something i’m ashamed of and one called Fuckyeahbrutalism ? Can i really comment on someone’s taste and sense for sustainability when i wet myself only THINKING of Paul Rudolph? Why would my taste be superior?
Sure, i’m better at pinpointing this than your average dentist, all with spending the last 10 years immersed in this shit, but FAT have done architecture for a way longer time. So has Jürgen Mayer. So has Will Alsop.
I want these things explained to me, is what i’m saying.
Yet for some reason, the ones who make the uglies, boasting with humor and self confidence, seldomly want to defend their choices.
I’ll finish up with this one wee anecdote:
Mr. Alsop, mentioned above, was holding a lecture in Stuttgart, lightheartedly describing his latest work. It was all banter and puns and pictures. Everyone was having a blast!
Until this bitch in the second row asked a mean question.
Mr. Alsop, the girl said, do you think some architects’ evident tendency to design for/in China might have something to do with the fact that they get away with more in the East, and that criticism in the West is much harsher when it comes to free forms and bright colors?
Seriously, the man turned from your merry architect next door to a.. slightly irritated architect next door?
He did not take that one well. Sure, it was a tad vicious, but the man’s a grown architect, and i was just you know… trolling a little. But he turned mean, and said i should work for Chipperfield - because everyone there is so sad and grey and miserable (like me! yay!), since they are always drawing right angles.
… Shit, maybe i should’ve used that as a reference for my job application.
So i don’t know, i am really young and maybe i will grow tolerant of more subversive aesthetics, maybe in a few years i won’t get acid reflux when something doesn’t meet my precious snobby tastes.
But as long as nobody wants to enter a dialogue, or at least play the devil’s advocate, and like, teach me stuff, i will just assume that the ones covering their ears singing “la la la i can’t hear you, you are mean! this house is pretty, architects are brainwashed!” are wrong and that i am, implicitly, right. Ignoring and deflecting critique does not always mean taking the high road, it means you know something’s rotten. Whatever happened to the ancient art of having a good old debate (and possibly fisticuffs)?!
That sounds fun!
And to conclude tonight’s broadcast, here’s something i find pretty:
Good fight, good night!
The first months after starting to work (in omg the coolest office ever!) i was exhausted all the time. I still work a lot less than during my uni or thesis semester, and even though i started off knowing exactly fucking nothing (despite 7+ years of architecture school) it wasn’t the work per se that drained every last drip of energy from my brain… it was the constant charade i played, trying to look and act like an adult.
I had to put a mask on - because in the real world, i can’t allow myself to get too real (heh). Sure, you say, this is what everybody does - but isn’t it strange that we all play this game, in order to persuade people that we are, indeed, worthy of trust and respect? Should it make a difference if my voice, as well as my ponytail, are high? No. But i lower them anyway.
A study has shown that people performed better at various tasks if they were wearing lab coats. I feel the same when i’m wearing that thing. The clothes aren’t really what an accounting firm might consider fit for work, but to me it’s a huge leap from wearing mini skirts and t-shirts with teddy bears on them.
It’s not that i don’t enjoy the new Mo, but she is a tiny bit different than the real one - turns out there were a few fucks left to give about appearance - since i don’t want to risk someone judging me, before i could prove myself to them.
Particularly the people who shove the money up my and the office’s ass.
During my thesis presentation, the only critique i got (woo!), was that i should pay attention to how i present my work, because some people might not be able to tell right away how serious i am about it.
My professors did know, and i was allowed to get my points across without too much ado. One of them said that i act like my projects aren’t that important, and that i pretend there isn’t a shitload of effort behind it, because i like to play it a little too cool. And then his co-critic laughed and said:
“Yes, but if we had commented negatively, she would’ve ripped us apart in mid air”
- and we all shared a hearty laugh about it. Because it was true. My parents know. This is not a motherfucking game to me! (ok, it’s pretty much a game, but i’m the kind of kid who would kick you in the shins if she lost at hopscotch because you messed up your throw)
Yet the warning remains valid. Because i can’t crack jokes and call my project “a thing” when i’m talking to someone who can make or break it. I have to wear the coat and the straight face and the deep voice. I don’t really know how far i can go, and what jokes are off limits, though i am pushing the edges, ever so gently, to see how far i can get without a slap on the wrist (or a firing).
It is a little painful, this feeling that i can’t trust my abilities alone, and that before i do anything right, i have to make them feel that i can. It’s disconcerting that i have to put on a little show like a trained pony, to make sure that they even listen to me. Enjoying it, and cursing occasionally and doing a good job aren’t enough any more, if people don’t get the immediate impression that i absolutely master and care about my work.
And i do care, so i wear the shirt.
What i wonder now, is how much the mask will take over in time. Because i see people who can’t put it off at all anymore, and it is a very sad sight. Maybe they have always had insipid interests and no regard for wit or humor. Or maybe they got too scared of admitting being human, too scared of being judged, and that’s what got them in the end. I also wonder whether 10 years down the line, i will be able to distinguish the part of me that has evolved and grown up, from the bit that has irrevocably been replaced by the mask.
I don’t know, you guys. But i try to navigate these waters as well and as honestly as i can, even if i have to dip the flag every now and then.