History/Theory

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  • 1970’s: critical theory focused on labor (or the social)/ this theory did not transition well into neoliberalism
  • theory that involved  Derrida, Heidegger, Deleuze, and Foucault tried to replace the theory that came out of modernist intellectual formations as the intellectual energy spent on mastering a difficult literature—mostly in translation—would enrich architectural discourse and trickle its way down into practice (…) It was hoped that architecture could be taken out of the deadening nexus of modernism and professionalism and be given a “thicker” disciplinary identity (…) The trouble was that the epistemology of delayed gratification could find its resonance in advanced history/theory work (i.e. PhD work), but not in the normative world of the studio (…)  with the arrival of computation, “intellectually-oriented” classes became increasingly impossible to justify in the curriculum (…) Furthermore, and importantly, with the arrival of the globalized student population in American universities, it became increasingly unclear how this Eurocentric reading list dealing with issues from a pre-globalization era could related to the wide range of issues coming from the global realities.
  • the semiotic approach evaporated away. Like the intellectualist stand, it proved to be too difficult to teach
  • Theory, if we think of it at the level of phenomenology, promised to enliven the inner spirit of the designer (…)  it promised a disguised spirituality residing not in humans alone but in materials, or even, more importantly, in joinery, in that proverbial tectonic
  • Theory tried to open up an awareness that history and its critical role in defining the “consciousness of the young student.” (…) Today, out of the around 120 or so architecture schools in the US, one half—if they teach history at all—still teach the old curriculum from pyramids onward
  • Theory—in whatever formation—could only barely deal with the problem of global warming (…) an alternative disciplinary horizon allied, correctly or not, with ethics, management theory, and building technology.
  • Theory—in whatever formation—failed to address the rise of nationalism in the post-colonial context (…) In a complex, global world, is it really a victory when Eurocentrism is replaced by nation-centrism?
  • Theory—in whatever formation—could not cope well in the expanded field of “historical architecture.” (…) no one knows how to teach architectural history, and there were few “theoretical” takes, especially since most of the effort at “theory” now tries to address issues in the contemporary world, a world often conveniently stripped of historical and cultural backgrounds. We have moved from modern architecture to environmental architecture, which serves to bring modern architecture towards its teleological end.
  • Theory—in whatever formation—passively, though in some cases actively promoted the emergence of Modernist Majoritarianism. Most schools of architecture came to emphasize the history of modernism as part of its core epistemological project (…) theory failed to critique the important institutional changes within the world of history/theory, the most important being the split between Modernism and Tradition, and now, more recently, Modernism and Pre-modernism
  • Theory—in whatever formation— failed to adequately address the digital until it was too late.
  • Theory—in whatever formation— failed to deal with the humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century and still struggles with issues of violence and trauma (…) e need to recognize that normative theoretical systems do exist, they are just not called history/theory.2 They go by other names such as preservation, digital architecture, modern architecture, sustainability, pre-modernism, etc (…)  the very success of the last decades is now coming to haunt the system, creating immobile boundaries that mitigate against interdisciplinarity. Advanced scholars who now work in the domain of “history/theory” do indeed often bridge into the realm of political science, anthropology, colonial studies, philosophy, geography, and other disciplines in the humanities. But whereas these other fields have made strong and important inroads into developing critical positions, architecture as an educational platform has in the last decades moved in the opposite direction, cleaning out its curriculum from disciplinary entanglements, placing the entire weight of that operation on the narrow ledge of “history/theory.” (…) To make matters worse, many elite schools decided to follow the neoliberal model of labor by tenuring only a few people and farming out the rest of its curriculum to hired guns who had little vested interest in—and no power to—transform the curriculum

Excerpts from: The School of Architectural Scandals, written by Mark Jarzombek, full article available here

Image available here

the age of scenius

Scenius

Scenius, or Communal Genius_Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes. Brian Eno suggested the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes”  can occasionally generate. His actual definition is:  “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.”

Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your like-minded peers, and the entire environment inspire you.

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors:

  • Mutual appreciation: Risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.
  • Rapid exchange of tools and techniques: As soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.
  • Network effects of success: When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.
  • Local tolerance for the novelties: The local “outside” does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Scenius can erupt almost anywhere, and at different scales: in a corner of a company, in a neighborhood, or in an entire region.

 

2008, Wired Magazine, full article available here/ Image available here

On UK Free Schools

FREE SCHOOLS

In the 1970s, idealistic young activists created a wave of experimental schools – no compulsory lessons, no timetables, no rules (…) “no headmaster, nor hierarchy nor recognise any central authority, but be controlled by the parents, children and teachers together”, the Times Educational Supplement reported in December 1970 (…) There were trade unionists, parents, community activists. It became a destination for idealistic university students. The school had to move frequently to find affordable spaces big enough for the growing numbers (…) There would be no timetable, no compulsory lessons, no uniform, no hierarchy. Teachers would be called by their first names. The children would make up the rules and decide what they wanted to learn. There’d be no fees, fixed hours, term times or holidays. They were to be schools without walls – and open whenever the community wanted them. Many of them quickly folded – with some communities not receptive to the idea of educational anarchy. But a few put down solid roots.

Free schools” mushroomed in the UK in the 1970s, but few survive. State school heads who tried to implement A.S. Neill’s ideas – notably at Risinghill in London –were smartly removed. Half Summerhill’s 68 pupils are from overseas, many from east Asian countries where some parents find the schooling too rigid.

 

References

  • Tom de Castella, The anarchic experimental schools of the 1970s, BBC News Magazine, 21 October 2014
  • Peter Wilby, Summerhill school: these days surprisingly strict, The Guardian, 27 May 2013

Image available here

Charting Your Course: Master strategies for organizing and managing architecture firms

ARCH FIRMS

The model derives from observing that two key driving forces shape the operation, management and organization of every architecture firm: first, its choice of technology (particular project operating system or process employed by the firm), and second, the collective values of the principals of the firm (Values refers to the personal goals and motivation of the principals in charge of the firm).

In regard to technology:

  • In general: Brains (expertise) firms:  they offer the smartest kid on the block/ In architecture: Strong-idea, organized to deliver singular expertise or innovation on unique projects.
  • In general: Gray-hair (experience) firms: they customize ideas, but rarely are positioned at the cutting edge/  In architecture: Strong-service organized to deliver experience and reliability, especially on complex assignments
  • In general: Procedure (execution) firms: they offer a prompt start, quick disposition and low cost/ In architecture: Strong-delivery, organized to provide highly efficient service on similar or more-routine assignments, often to clients who seek more of a product than a service

In regard to values:

Practice, as defined by Webster, is “the carrying on or exercise of a profession or occupation as a way of life.” Business, on the other hand, is defined as a “commercial or mercantile activity customarily engaged in as a means of livelihood.”

Practice-centered professionals  typically have as their major goal the opportunity to serve others and produce examples of the discipline they represent. Their bottom line is qualitative: How do we feel about what we are doing? How did the job come out?

Business-centered professionals more likely have as their personal objective a quantitative bottom line, which is more focused on the tangible rewards of their efforts: How did we do?

 

References

Weld Coxe, Hon. AIA; Nina F. Hartung; Hugh, H. Hochberg; Brian J. Lewis, UDavid H. MaisterU,, Robert F. Mattox, FAIA; and Peter A. Piven, FAIA,  1986. Charting Your Course: Master strategies for organizing and managing architecture firms. In Architectural Technology, (May/June 1986), pp. 52-58. Retrieved here

Image available here

Artist (Residency) and the City (article)

ARTISTS AND THE CITY

Arrow Factory founders Pauline Yao, Rania Ho and Wang Wei standing in their space, mid-bricking, August 2017.

Introduction by Livia Alexander

Art and artists today are identified as a key instrument in urban development and community planning (…) Artists are being invited to engage in the most unexpected corporate settings, recognized as critical, outside-the-box thinkers as business entrepreneurs are enlisting their services to propel innovation and growth. Government officials and departments are deploying artists to address pressing problems of public policy and governance. These developing practices frequently take the form of artists working in newly formed residencies situated in communities, business places, government offices and a wide range of other settings (…) Are there ways for art programs to build the communities, and wealth for the people already living in them?

The article sets out to respond via five examples:

  • Community-Based Artist Residencies in China, by Kira Simon Kennedy
  • The African Artists’ Foundation, by Azu Nwagbogu
  • The Sharing Economy that Keeps Brooklyn Artists Going, by Livia Alexande
  • Social Drawing as a Model for Community-First Engagement, by Francesca Fiore &
  • Amsterdam: Counting our Precarious Blessings?, by Nat Muller

Full article available here

The connecting of something to a network changes the essence of what it is. (J.C. Ramo)

Complicated mechanisms can be designed, predicted, and controlled. Jet engines, artificial hearts, and your calculator are complicated in this sense. Complex systems, by contrast, can’t be so precisely engineered. They are hard to fully control. Human immunology is complex in this sense. The World Wide Web is complex. A rain forest is complex (…) Networks take any complicated thing, say a Tesla Model S with all of its predictable moving parts, and places them in an indecipherable maze of interacting connections (in this case a network comprised of self-improving computer code). It’s in connection where surprising interactions can occur, and that’s what creates uncertainty.

Reference

  • Joshua Cooper Ramo, The seventh sense, article by Aaron Frank retrieved here

ZARCH Publication now available!

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I am very pleased to see our articlePedagogical approaches to embodied topography: a workshop that unravels the hidden and imaginary landscapes of Elaionas,‘ get published in ZARCH Journal and I am also very happy to share this with you. It is based on a collaborative project that began in 2015 with Prof. Nelly Marda and Christos Kakalis from the University of Newcastle along with the students of our postgraduate course in NTUA.

The article highlights the importance of mapping in urban design and uses the concept of embodied topography to describe how activating the human body through a series of sensory motor tasks can help individuals immerse themselves in the landscape to acquire a better understanding of the urban phenomena. This process is presented here as a tool of mapping and managing the complexity of the urban landscape as it enables the individuals to recover the more hidden or even imaginary aspects of the city and their own relation to it.

As this is an ongoing research I hope that there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss what we are doing with more people involved in this kind of research in urban design. So, feel free to comment and write back your own experiences on the matter.

ZARCH: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Architecture and Urbanism, Num. 8, image available here