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.
I am a child of Modernism. I am rootless.
It might be because i grew up within constructs that encouraged hygiene more than fun, that while other children were making mud patties, i was watching tv.
Maybe it’s no wonder then, that after growing up in modular apartment blocks, i am more inclined to designing spaces where a sink to wash one’s hands is always within immediate reach. The other day i was going over the plan of an apartment, and while pushing out one variation of the place’s layout after another, the ones that made me most uncomfortable were the ones where the bathroom was furthest from the entrance. I wasn’t thinking about how someone living there might come home needing to pee real badly, but how disgusting it is to not take off your shoes and wash your hands when you come home.
Funny then how so many modernist villas had a basin right at the entrance, as if to wash off all of nature’s filth before entering the pristine living machine. I have deeply internalized this attitude. A few years ago, friends were shooting a little film in a park, frolicking in the grass - everyone took their shoes off but me. A. then asked whether i was afraid of the meadow. I was. I still am.
One could also argue that Modernism’s essential failure was disregarding people’s need to settle down. Emerging primarily due to the second industrial revolution, one of its main claims to an aesthetic signature was the borrowing of things that had been associated before with colonial functionality (like light, folding, modular furniture and easily assembled materials, for instance) and a life(style) on the move (represented at the time by the advent of the automobile and modern cruise ships).
This leads me to my second insight about how Modern architecture shaped me. When Mr. Monilogues bought the couch from which i am now writing these lines, it made my stomach sink. Did that thing mean we would never be able to move, ever again? That we would be forever confined to one apartment? That we would become static?! Boring?
Maybe this is why during my stay in Zürich, my entire furniture consisted of a clothes rack, 4 boxes, an ikea night table and an air mattress - all would later fit snugly into Princess Isabel’s little white car. I still keep the mattress because it is probably the most comfortable piece of furniture i have ever owned.
But this is also why, perhaps, whenever i enter my parent’s home, stacked with massive, heavy, dark, 19th century furniture and cabinets filled with treasure (brandy), i fall asleep. Instantly. Sure you could argue it’s the cats, my mom reading by the fire and my dad opening a bottle of champagne everytime i come ‘home’… but i think it is actually the feeling that they are not going anywhere - because the furniture is too heavy! The massive oak chest of drawers is the anchor that keeps my parent’s home where it is. Forever.
This is not how i feel in my real home now, nor is it how i want to feel. This is why furniture burdens me, as do my clothes and my books. Because i feel they are tying me down. Yet this might also be why i always have this … itch. Why i am never truly completely at peace - unless i am in a hotel room, or on a boat somewhere far away - thus completely detached, as opposed to the limbo that is being at home and still wanting to move… eventually.
Perhaps this dichotomy represents my true nature.
Modernism has taught me to be clean, and to never become rooted anywhere. And i feel now that even though i can’t and i won’t fight this, it might be well worth thinking this position over.
I assume that once the Oil finally runs out, Modernism will have taken its last breaths (it is, essentially, fossil fuel architecture), so will our migratory lifestyle. And once we are no longer able to commute enormous distances or switch jobs and homes every year or so, we will also overcome the constant itch and the fear of settling down.
It is rather strange that with all the random balderdash i’m spilling on this blog in a semi-regular fashion, i have completely omitted one topic that’s very dear to me: EASA.
If we’ve met more than once, i probably told you about it, possibly during a Justice or MGMT song, possibly in a studio, most likely while intoxicated. Because one mostly mourns her lost love after a glass o’ wine or two. If none of these scenarios occured, please click on the links below.
This is not, however, a promotional post. It’s a sobby phonecall in the middle of the night. It’s because Wastelands will kick off tomorrow and i have mixed feelings about it. You see, nerds, what made easa so special for me is that its impact was ever so subtle… and so enduring. It’s the wood i’ve steamed in an old factory mill in Manchester and it’s the paper i’ve folded under the scorching Greek sun in Elefsina. It’s the talks i’ve had on a hay pillow in the middle of the night and it’s the lecture i’ve listened to, cold and wet and hung over in the geodesic tents of Letterfrack. It’s the mattress on the scaffolding in the circus tent and it’s the broken windows of Downtex. It’s the discussion round in Copenhagen. It’s the music at night and all the strangers. Most of all it’s the strangers. The people we’ve met. The fact that is has always managed to gather a certain kind of people. Or that i’ve found them among the 400 participants each year.
It’s a feeling that i can head straight out to anywhere from Baku to Berlin and have someone to talk to. Someone who understands, maan. But the thing is, two years after my last easa, i can’t quite put it into words. I can’t post any pictures. Because it’s so intense and ephemeral that nobody could actually get it. How it felt when i walked into that Dublin gym, soaking wet, to the bone, and this girl i didn’t know handed me a towel. Just like that. Or how i got sick in Letterfrack after that Dublin rain, and B. found me in the lunch room and wrapped me in his weird little blanket and took me to the loveliest nurse, and she sang and told him to make me a hot whiskey and everything will be alright. And it was.
It’s that hot summer night when someone would just sit down next to you and ask for a lighter and a few hours later you’re still there, listening to a flute playing across the school yard, while arguing about the failure of the International Style. It’s a question posted and the people who reply. It’s having C. explain to me how a retention pool works so i could actually finish a project. It’s J. calling that evening during my thesis. It’s Y. and L. and M. It’s everyone. It’s someone in particular, but that is neither here nor there.
Easa saved me from a sheltered life of mediocrity and boredom. It broadened a horizon that threatened to be forever confined in a water glass. It served me my first beer. I still remember waking up from my reverie, in the train back home after my first easa, and thinking “The fuck was that?!”, with M. grinning mischievously and lighting up another cigarette.
It stretches you very thin sometimes, i admit, but it is mostly during those moments that you exceed your normality and it’s mostly the disturbances that make you think further. And nobody remembers that shit, anyway.
Alas, i’m not into the mode anymore. I would’ve had no time, even if i wanted to. I would’ve loved to go to Helsinki tonight, but at the end of the day, i don’t need to be physically there anymore, unkempt and sleep deprived. I want to, but i don’t need to. What gets build gets torn down. What we think, remains. The workshops and the objects are transient. The people, however, are not. Not to us.
Pe un santier din Ludwigsburg lucreaza muncitori romani. Povestind cu arhitectul care se ocupa de de proiect, veni, bineinteles, vorba si de asta.
Peste mine atarna, spre rusinea mea, rusinea adusa in pachetele invelite in hartie de ziar de acasa. Rusinea care vine cu bacuri picate de 60% din elevi, cu politica, cu hotia, cu murdaria, cu fel de fel de lucruri pe care le stiu… sau cred ca le stiu.
Imi cer scuze indirect cand spun ca sunt din Romania asa cum ma fastacesc cand am o pata pe tricou. A fost ceaiul prea fierbinte, nu e vina ceaiului, si nici a tricoului ca e gri, asa a fost sa fie. Am si tricouri curate acasa, si ceaiuri care nu pateaza, jur! Nu trebuie sa zic, dar o simt, si se simte.
Asadar imi intreb colegul, poate ca sa evit tacerea care se trage, imi inchipuiesc, din faptul ca lui ii e jena ca eu sunt din Romania si ca muncitorii lui sunt lenesi si prosti… ma gandesc eu… il intreb daca sunt bine pregatiti, pentru ca stiu ca acasa sunt probleme, ca multi nu sunt bine echipati pentru munca.
La care colegul imi spune ceva si eu raman masca. Baietii aia injura ca la gura cortului, dar n-a vazut in viata lui muncitori mai capabili. Ei se ocupa pe sit de gipscarton, si nu exista sa nu se poata. Indiferent ce le sugereaza, baietii injura, si se pun pe munca si nu pleaca pana nu le-a iesit. Si de nu le iese, injura, dau jos, si se apuca din nou. Pana e perfect. Cei mai buni si mai hotarati si mai harnici. Baietii din Romania.
Vazand ca eu ma uit ciudat, mirata, poate, nu stiu, colegul continua. Imi spune ca acum 10 ani a facut Erasmus in Bordeaux, si ca de atunci are mare respect pentru romani. Ca are el o vorba favorita “Vorba lunga, saracia omului” pe care a invatat-o acolo si a adus-o cu el in Germania.
Eu am zambit, m-am bucurat si m-am rusinat in sinea mea, si m-am intors la munca. Poate suntem un popor mai de treaba decat credem.
So after a couple of tries, i’ve managed to visit the infamous Library 21 in Stuttgart.
Right off the bat - it is bad. It ruined my Saturday. And the AR article up there proves that money can’t build a nice house, but it can buy you reviews.
Admittedly, when it comes to architecture, personal taste, education and sensibilities play a decisive role. There are, however, things that lie beyond discussion, provided you aren’t Mr. Yi. He is the one responsible for the thing. When i saw him in 2009, he was anything but reluctant to refer to cosmic proportions when talking about his work. Among pictures of galaxies, he admitted that he had always wanted to create something that was absolutely perfect and that with the Bibliothek 21, he had finally succeeded.
Even though it is so exhaustingly conceptual and academic, i do get that mr. Yi wanted to create something that is a platonic object of immaculate proportion, that has neither scale or orientation, that is utterly concentrated towards the knowledge it harbors in its innermost centre - all in a pretty lazy, but ultimately understandable hermetic gesture.
You know when we say that symmetry is the beauty of idiots? It’s this that we are talking about.
I also understand that he wanted a pristine white safe for all the colourful books and people in there, but again, if you want it that way, you better make sure the paint is actually white, that the paint job isn’t sloppy and already chipped, and that the transitions between materials are also spotless. To which mr. Yi replied: “Lol wut?1”
The thing is, if you really want to bend over backwards and make a platonic shape reality (let’s ignore the fact that you obviously don’t understand what that means), you better try and make it as neat as you can. Because while certain incongruities are accepted and unavoidable in most buildings, when all you have to do is a perfect cube for some books, the aesthetic tolerance threshold is a lot lower than if you’re struggling with non-euclidean geometries. It’s so clumsily executed that the mystic quotes of its maker just make the ridicule seem almost mean. It’s like mocking a 5 year-old with no fingers who claims to be the new Jimi Hendrix while trying to jam on a Les Paul. It’s too easy. And mean.
Anyway, up went 79 Million from taxpayer’s money to aid mr. Yi masturbate.
And here’s why it sucks:
This building tries so hard to be badass, but then cries in the shower and drinks itself to sleep every night because it’s still insecure. And has daddy issues.
“Look at me!” it yells “Look how square i am!” It is, in fact, so square and closeted, that in school, the other buildings were constantly flushing its head down the toilet when Ungers wasn’t watching. Also uncomfortable are the seats and the desks and the colours inside. The only people who would want to have a nice lecture session there are Norman Bates and Patrick Bateman and even they would want to leave before darkness falls.
Not that the Porsche museum, say, does a better job with those black edges everywhere, but by god at least it tried. And when i’m starting to compliment other buildings for trying not to be terrible, it is a sad day for us all.
This building looks and feels like everyone involved just started drinking around 12am and went “Ahhh, fuck it” every 10 minutes.
It is so bad, you’d have to go there in person and die a little inside at every step like i did.
You know what, here’s a collection of pictures Mr. Monilogue and i shot while muttering curses under our breath.
magazine pretty… or.. is it?
When you have to erect a red-and-white fence between your main entrance and the service entrance to make sure people don’t go knocking on the latter… you miiiight be a poor architect.
Pristine. It opened in October 2011.
Cosmic perfection, amiright?
come to the sloppy side. we’ve got milk and cookies.
just to reiterate… OCTOBER!
every time you open an magazine drawer, a banshee eats a cat alive.
keep pressing it.. yeah that’s right, right there.. uh.
even comfortable seats won’t make people stay. also, they are not comfortable.
straight out of the magazines. the ones that IKEA delivered for free in 1999.
it had a baby. the baby is the best thing about it. let’s hope it doesn’t grow up like the parents…
the luxurious terrace
the entrance foyer
functionality in its highest form.
During my big presentation i decided to be a grown-up. Dress sharply, comb my mane, be confident, articulate, composed, all that shite.
Alas, i failed, because as usually when i’m under stress, my conscious mind blacks out and i just… go. I rambled on and cracked jokes and laughed and rambled some more.
I did, however, manage to dress like a god damn adult.
Today i went to the doctor because of that.
Bitches, lady shoes hurt my feet so bad i had to see a doctor. And he laughed and snickered and basically told me i will never be a lady. Then he also prescribed some ointment. Because you’re not a complete nerd if you don’t need special soles and have a dry scalp. Then some bullies chased me and shoved me inside my locker.
Also, last weekend, the s.o. et moi went to this … party? bbq? Rich germans and architects all wore polo shirts and satin blouses and nibbled at free range turkey filet while sipping champagne. Champagne so delicious i didn’t get bubbles up my nose from it.
I guess i belong right up there, right? I’m a graduated architect with more than one university’s props to show for it, i don’t have a hump and i don’t make spit bubbles in the corner of my mouth when i talk, but nerds, i felt inappropriate. I felt too young and too poor, too buck-toothed and too ethnic to be there.
When i read this article a friend recommended, about how as a foreigner you always carry this looming feeling of inappropriateness with you wherever you go, i smugly thought to myself: never been there.
Sure, once in a while, especially in English-speaking countries, i was afraid that my ridiculous accent would betray my Eastern heritage and people would think i’m a hooker shipped over by the mafia. (Shut up! I think there’s definitely a niche for prostitutes who are keen on discussing the philosophical implications of the Copenhagen Interpretation while wearing flat shoes.. there must be!) But other than the occasional bitter reminder that i’m a second class (albeit an EU) citizen, i steered the international waters, from Dhaka to Conception with relative confidence.
And the truth is, it would be easy to blame my awkwardness onto being from the former Eastern Block and saying there’s some sort of linguistic and cultural bias that makes me not function and prevents people from understanding how awesome i am. It is not so. Ever since i can remember, the pretty girls in school had their hair combed straight while mine was just a tousled mane. They had rosy porcelain cheeks while i clumsily hid away behind layers of loose powder.
They talked to grown ups without addressing them with the formal “Sie” - dudettes, i had to turn twenty to stop calling my mom’s friend “mrs. so-and-so” despite her pleas for me to call her by her first name since i was about nine.
I fancied myself smarter than them but they never saw my wrath - all the witty retorts came - and still do - after the argument was long over. To this day, whenever i choose to intervene into a conversation i dig so far back and so theoretically and bizarre that they just laugh and go like “sure moni, tell us more about the circadian rhythms of invertebrates.” Once a tutor said something about wasted time and how he wanted a cake, and i made a madeleine joke. Because in “À la recherche du temps perdu” there’s a madeleine.. and um.. cake, yeah? By the time i finished explaining he was already gone. Nerds, and i haven’t even fucking read all the books!
I could go on and on. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t understand what a garlic press is for. I don’t taste the difference between wines. (whiskeys, that is another issue) I’m only lying when i say i know my way around a cheese aisle or a tobacco store. I can’t walk on heels and i can’t address an adult like the 25-year-old that i am. My shirts are crinkly. I’m not a lovely, kind person and i don’t fully understand politics.
Not that those ‘adults’ have exactly earned their right to be so smug about fucking everything, either, you know? They spell wrongly and haven’t heard of anything or anyone outside their cultural circle. Not to mention ignorance towards simple facts that one should’ve learned in school - someone asked me what an exothermic reaction was, for example.
And sure, i could hold my own when talking about houses and like… squids, i guess. I’m not an idiot, i don’t want to give anyone that impression… or confirm it.
But sometimes i just step into a room full of pretentious, tall, blonde architects in clean shirts and i’m like… i just want to burn this motherfucker down!
And this, in turn, makes me wonder if i can ever excel in a profession that demands that i socialize and act like i fucking own the place and know everything, in order to convince some rich lady to let me design her 3rd Porsche’s garage…
We shall see.