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!
Good fight, good night!
The first months after starting to work 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! (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 white shirt.
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.
Last weekend i visited the Venice Architecture Biennale. It was kickass.
I might not have a lot to compare it to, since i must shamefully admit it has been my first time, but i seriously don’t get all the bile poured over it all across the intertubes.
But the baunetz bullshit i cannot grasp. They draw references to Prix, but insist that visions are out of place and architects should focus on the Doable.
They complain that the exhibition is too heavily encoded, while Prix argues that it’s the populism that’s killing the profession. Baunetz mourns that the Common Ground olive branch that Chipperfield was stretching out is actually too hard to grasp for engineers and real estate agents … when the article actually starts with this gem:
„Wenn ich Visionen habe, gehe ich zum Arzt“, sagte Altkanzler Helmut Schmidt (if i’ve got visions, i need to see a doctor)
So much whining over an event that i thought was actually pretty neat. So architects need to be super at problem solving and reach out over every other profession that’s involved with building, but don’t get too smartassy or people will get bored. Think about the most important of issues, but do it in a way that doesn’t scare engineers away because the words are too poetic. The famed artist-engineer dichotomy gets out of hand.
Perhaps Wolf was pissed that he didn’t get invited (though, i insist, he is right) and the Baunetz is just being plain bitchy.
Sure, the profession is essentially trapped in a self-referential, yet non-reflexive bubble - which is a) dangerous because you’re alienating your allies (client and builders) and b) sorta stupid because all it is doing is superficially milking its own ego without addressing important theoretical issues (like they did in Prix’ day i assume, all with the acid and setting shit on fire).
I’m also for decoding matters to make them more easily understood - i too, was a tiny bit put off by reading plans plastered across walls, but only because that’s something i do at home, in silence, not when i want to see this many exhibitions in a day. I too, thought that it’s symptomatic that architecture focuses so heavily inwards, that even trained architects sometimes fail to grasp certain connections. Sure, in order to get Eisenman’s contribution, it miiiiiiiiiiiight have been helpful to know what his deal is with the grid. Maybe Superstudio should ring a bell. Maaaaaybe having read The Formal Basis Of Modern Architecture would’ve made it easier, but by god, it is totally worth it! (because i would totally intellectually hatefuck Peter Eisenman)! And i had fun, dammit!
But seriously now, how much more do we have to dumb ourselves down so everyone will love us?!
When doctors have doctors’ orgy meetings or whatever it is they do, they don’t talk to each other like they’re all four-year-olds. And while some doctors do, like that Oz fella, it is not only annoying but it is also condescending. If something is wrong with me i want my doctor to talk doctor talk and make me understand, because yes, i am able to understand fancy words and processes, instead of making laser-sounds while telling me i have terminal boo-boo.
It’s a fine line we’re walking because we don’t really share a vocabulary with anyone we need to work with (though we should), and this is also what i’m trying to get a grip of with the monilogues. Because yes, i should be allowed to talk normal people-talk when i talk about architecture, since i can’t separate it from my non-architecture life anymore, and yes, i will sometimes say a building is fugs or pretty. I don’t need to use pretentiously encoded jargon to make myself seem smart - i use words that work in a given context.
But do not confuse this with a call to populism where we refuse to talk about matters that matter to us, and that non-architects might not understand right away. They don’t need to! I don’t understand what anyone ever talks about anymore if they are lawyers or doctors or business executives, but that is ok, too, i guess. I could, if i needed to, but i ran out of fucks to give about everything ever that is not tangent to architecture.
Others also complain that the exhibits were presented as objects, which made the event shallow and formalist, when it is exactly that that the rest of the world doesn’t understand, and that separates architects from everyone else. Seeing intrinsic beauty in a model cutout is just as important as making that building work or not. There shouldn’t be this gaping caesura between beauty and money and thermal efficiency.
The Biennale should offer a platform for discussion - any kind of discussion (which it does, if you look around a little), but we still have to come up with the solutions ourselves. And we won’t, if we only pick at the shapes and the organization and at our own egos. (People were hating on the Caracas Think Thank too, and i thought it was brilliant! at the exact opposite pole from Eisenman’s junk up there, but it fitted the situation and it was actually fun to watch and experience - it should be all about the mix, no?)
So, anyway, having a hermetic exhibition that is paradoxically called “Common Ground” might have seemed odd to some, and horrendously mediocre and compromising and submissive to Wolf D. Prix, but can we just enjoy the fucking thing and find the good straws and grasp onto them and talk, however prosaically or pretentiously, about i don’t know, ideas, for once? Please?
The documenta13 is slowly closing its gates for the next 5 years, and a few weeks ago i took a trip to Kassel to expand my cultural horizon.
I have forgotten all but a few.
This is one of them.
Kader Attia talks about repaired humans from WWI and repaired African statues in the same breath and it makes complete sense. The exhibition was slightly grotesque, and revolved around scars. At least iI think it was about scars.
It told the story of how people in Africa repaired antique statues with whatever they had within reach, and in turn, the visibility of the fix rendered the artefacts worthless. Western buyers preferred pristine-faux-antiques instead of the altered originals.
Then the same thing happened again - only with people. Veterans of the WWI came home mutilated and traumatized and doctors did whatever they could at the time - allowed them to live, but pretty they were no longer. Those people were also deemed unsuitable, tainted, worthless. By all accounts, they had been through hell and survived, only to be ostracised and left alone with their PTSD.
Now Attia argued that, contrary to cultural belief, scars and visible repairwork actually add value to the “original”. As well as juxtaposing pictures of the veterans and the African Artwork - which is, fittingly, mostly ritual masks, he’s also produced sculptures of the people in question, this third layer closing up the story quite neatly.
It is scarring (heh) to realize how we’re objectifying ourselves and each other to such extent that people, like art, become obsolete once they stop fitting our biased paradigms of beauty. It is also worth noting that Attia didn’t invent the concept of being fascinated with scars - beauty often needs a “rip” to make it memorable.
The comparison of people and objects, mutilated faces and repaired masks, however, really drove the point home.
I too, have a scar.
A scar that stems from a blue dot on my wrist. The blue dot was there and my mother feared it might become malign and had it surgically removed when i was three. I still remember the cauterizer and the smell and how it didn’t go away and how had to be operated under full narcosis. I still remember my mother spinning around me eightfold and a big distorted smile on her face as i woke up from anaesthesia.
I still remember all the wide clunky cuff bracelets i bought over the years to hide the scar. To this day, It is still a stranger, because even though i’ve had it for as long as i can think, i can also remember the blue dot. The dot, however, is still part of the proto-me, the person i was when everything was reverie and trance and magic and shrouded in dreams. The scar reminds me that there used to be something else there. Something that was part of me and is now gone. Something that i shouldn’t even remember. It is not a mark of anything extraordinary, it is not proof of adventure, trauma, or courage. It is simply skin that is shiny and flat and feels paper-thin.
It’s funny that i sometimes still point at things with my hand up, so the scar won’t show. Or how i still wear the cuffs. I have not learned to accept my scar, even though it is nothing more than a patch of skin that looks different… and i am an object.
These days, as summer leaves, i like to remember them.
After leaving B., and following a messy, cathartic shift from the gates of the Orient to the clean, boring vineyards of Baden-Württemberg, i found myself embarking a plane towards D.
What makes me remember her now, is the main question i sometimes ask myself, and i know you do, too: why do i keep falling for the bad, messy ones?
I do miss her, you know. She first greeted me with a warm, steamy hug. My temperature rose, my skin became sticky. I would get this feeling again, but this was my first time. She said hello and i could barely breathe, i choked on my own heartbeat, it made me a little sick and i got slightly dizzy.
She is the big mother of everyone. When i first met her, she bled and she pulsated and she wrapped me in sickly sweet scents, of jasmine, again, and tea, and over-ripe fruit and death. It wasn’t dirt, is was life. Messy and raw and dangerous and sublime and sweet. Most of all she is sweet.
She is also the big, overwhelming lover of everyone. She is sweaty and fertile and ripe with so much love. It is noisy in her dark embrace, and she emits a constant deep hum, like a mantra, sprinkled with sharp noises and a little death. It’s always a little death, like perhaps she could hold you a little too tight, and blow out your feeble little soul. And as i stood perfectly still, for a few seconds that felt like weeks, at the entrance of the market, rickshaws and salesmen and children buzzing around me, i felt safe, and home. It was in the eye of her storm and only in that moment that lasted a wink, that i truly found her. Or this i thought.
For towering in her middle, in the bright, filtered white light of the next day, stands her true, concrete heart, perfectly silent. It is her raw grandeur, her solemn core that sends shivers down your spine. As i crossed my legs and followed the qiblah and stood, again, perfectly still, and perfectly in awe, i wanted to cry. Not because i thought she would break me, but because her silent womb had enlaced me and for the first and only time i felt the way i am supposed to feel…
inside a religious building.
Within a government building.
Within the monstrous, sweet, raging flower that is Dhaka.