Thoughts and Columbia

Once again proving that it's all been done before, I sampled recent Columbia studio briefs and found outcroppings of my thesis interests under the surface everywhere. Or I'm just reading in to things. Either way, innovation is lame, so lets just consider this a confirmation of intelligence and a commitment to mastery. Perhaps excerpting some snippets will help me situate myself against alternate theses.

One big divide that seems lurking under the surface (if I may paraphrase and exaggerate a little, these things are probably mostly coming from my head anyway), is the split between:

(1) Briefs that put architecture in service of a de Certeau-like agenda of expanding room for free play within the product world of capitalism. The exercising of biopower as a tactical political move. This idea exacerbates the feelings of frustration I encountered on reading a chunk of de Certeau last night. While I think his conception of the world is elegant, captivating, and most importantly evidencing truth, or at least the image of it along with correctness, his conclusion that tactics must take the form of play seemed deadening, at least for architecture.
It seems like we are either on the side of the generic system (the side of production, the man), or we are forced to minimize our role in the interesting (at least per de Certeau) side of consumption, to disappear, leaving everyman as his own, kinda lame, spatial manipulator.
So, in order for this to work in such a way that interests me, the architect would need to increase agency such that, first, we actually increase the room for play, and second, we actually improve, expand, alter the definition of play to increase its potential effects. We make the biopower stronger and better. So architects could either (1) design the tactics of de Certeau's politics (designing them might already be a contradiction), (2) or they could willingly provide an infrastructure (his iambic pentameter analogy) that increases constraint to encourage creativity (but then aren't we still on the production/man side), (3) or they could open up intentional holes in something that doesn't at first seem like infrastructure, or even within existing infrastructures, which allow biopower to flourish in and capitalize on, and even expand.
One would be a strategy of designing consumption itself, one of designing an infrastructure of consumption, and one of producing holes for consumption (through parasitic, corruptive, deceptive, erasing, altering, hiding/revealing, making hackable etc moves within existing infrastructures (or architectures).
At first blush, the first seems somewhat tedious, with a scale too small for architecture (or maybe for me, thats what frustrated me when reading de Certeau, at least). The second seems to embody contradiction, and be somewhat pompous. The third seems the most immediately appealing. Not just because the quality of the architectural responses it seems to trigger for me sound cool, but because it also seems to actually define a role, an agency, for the architect within a given conception of the world. We are not the man, working on products. But we are also not just the people, working on our tiny zone in a sea. Rather we are a new agent that seeks to operate with the relevant techniques in favor of the people (and to some degree the man, by keeping some focus on production as well) with systems that are relevant, on the systems' own terms. This allows us to slowly encourage play, and then modify it as an appropriate architecture as it/we develop...

(2) Briefs that paint a roughly similar picture of the world, but respond not with biopower but with new network connections. They return political power and agency on a large scale, they believe it. So while some of the rhetoric in these studios sounds correct in framing a scenario, the approach, at least for now, seems less appealing to me. Still useful as oppositional framing devices.

Note: A lot of these also espouse a worldview of increasing statelessness, global-everything, and diffuse something-or-another that seems not so right. I prefer to think that these spaces are within relatively conventional definitions of the world (states, borders, etc) and rather can make a footprint through states of exception. There are weird parallel and/or overlapping conditions, but I don't think that the world is yet turning into a homogenized soup. I think. At least not at the scale I am interested in.

Ok, for fun, interesting (for better or for worse) snippets from Columbia's recent studio briefs. After writing all this the connections to below seem flimsier and less necessary, but have interesting smells and feels within little moments or ideas. The language is peppered with relevancies, which probably means either I have cast my net too wide and vague (surely a truth), or that my topic is super-awesome (also inevitable), or that my project is all-consuming in terms of its ability to materialize in my eyes, to change the forms of things (yup).
So here goes:

Reinhold Martin, Fall 2005
Governor’s Island, New York. In the spring of 2005, Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) issued a “Request for Expressions of Interest” to develop the island.

In response, we propose that:

1. The island be renamed Utopia (an island second in fame and influence only to Manhattan), and that all subsequent development be expected to live up to that name.
2. The new island’s urbanism be one of islands—individual units of space arranged to maximize programmatic mixture—of which Guggenheim: Utopia will be the first.
3. The resulting islands within islands be designed as an escape—“Escape to the Islands.”

Guggenheim: Utopia is therefore conceived as a beautiful object whose primary function is to attract visitors and investment capital to Governors Island through the public display of art and culture.

In particular, we will take notice of—and attempt to neutralize—their shared organicism. As a backdrop for the understanding of architecture as a self-referential aesthetic object...


The aesthetic model we will pursue will privilege enigma over communication and entropy over order.

Utopian Realism

The overall challenge of the studio will be to explore the architectural and urban potential of an approach that can be called Utopian Realism, which asserts that:

1. The further inside (architecture) you go, the further outside (the city, the world) you get.
2. Every building imagines a city.
3. Every building can imagine a better city, and a better world.

Laura Kurgan, Fall 2005
No such permanent institution -- with the ability to prosecute and jail individuals for crimes outside the jurisdiction of a single nation-state -- has ever existed in the history of humanity.

its spatial definition (as an institution with global reach and borderless jurisdiction. but housed in a particular place in built structures) is still being debated.

The institution can be interpreted architecturally, then, as part archive, part courthouse, part stage or broadcast studio, part research center, or as a complex hybrid of existing programs, some of which are not easily compatible, and one whose reach and public extends automatically beyond its temporal and physical location.

Your work should take into account the fact that the courtroom is always a built diagram. Do not confuse the minimal elements of the ICC courtroom's program (interpretation booth, robing chambers, etc.) with the basic diagrammatic structure of any courtroom -- it is the latter on which you should concentrate here, and hence distinguish between the diagrammatic and its programmatic aspects of the courtroom.

Consider what happens to these courtrooms-as-diagrams once inserted into the larger context of the ICC as an institution, and once the ICC is itself active in even larger contexts, i.e. networks of power, information, and ethics. As an institution (not a building), what is the ICC, what might it do or become, and what forces is or will it in turn be subjected to?

Although the building is made of a series of rooms, it is also constructed of a series of networks and remote locations, both visible and invisible, and looks backwards and forwards in history.

Scott Marble, Spring 2006
...we will consider the ubiquitous portable classroom that results from the chronic problem of fluctuating enrollment and general overcrowding of public schools. While they are always intended to be deployed temporarily as an interim solution to space needs, portable classrooms are very often used for many years becoming part of the permanent landscape of public schools. And while they are universally seen as architecturally inadequate and symbolically negative, they continue to expand in use.

Marc Tsurumaki, Spring 2006
At once a space of regimentation and control, the hotel is conversely a site of pleasure, play and social experimentation. In this sense, the hotel approaches an architecture of ludic excess, a technical and bureaucratic apparatus whose primary function is diversion. A provocative assemblage of itineraries, functions and performances, it offers an incubator for emergent forms of collective experience and new techno-social assemblages. Viewed opportunistically, the paradoxical mix of efficiency and excess provides a rich ground for intervention, revealing the complimentary relation between play and order, between the productive and the transgressive, between the conventional and the radically inventive.

Fred Levrat, Spring 2006
Geopolitical investment and brilliant marketing has allowed the small city of Dubai to recently become one of the major metropolitan players in the world. Fantasy and marketing has become a way to attract capital, generating a city not based on “demand” or “necessity” (there is absolutely no local population need) but on the satisfaction of the materialization of a “virtual environment.”

In Rem Koolhaas retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan “Delirious New York” the main reference for the iconography and driving force for the constitution of Manhattan is fuelled by the fantasy of Coney Island and the concept of New York as an attractor of new population and capital. If the Chrysler Building or the Empire State building are to be labeled as subconscious association to the Coney Island land of pleasure, one has to recognize the entirely conscious and meticulous planning of operations such as the Palm, the World or the Burj Dubai.

The double physical condition of the tabula rasa, on the desert sand and on the water has been quite helpful for this construction of dreams. The other tabula rasa is happening socially, where international capital and an imported “slave” labor allows almost any materialization.

Arab investors are not anymore interested to invest in the US stock market, and are looking for an outlet to develop their own “progressive” environment.

The role of the architect is not just to solve problems but to invent new environments. To constitute a package of virtual materialization – with the name, the design, the product, the materials, etc. Even invent the type of user that should use it. Not at an object level but on an environment level, on a neighborhood level…

Leslie Gill and Tina Manis, Spring 2006
the first studio focused on the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and the housing of its workforce in a regional outpost in the American Southwest. The following semesters examined a federally mandated agenda to increase security in the form of sanctioned programs to build barricades along the border. This year, we extend our focus to examine the role of the American Embassy in Mexico City and/or the role of a Mexican Office of Consulate Affairs in San Diego; both programs have historically represented two scales of the domestic and international identity at home and abroad.

The State Department’s mission for embassies is clear, yet the identity and presence of the embassy remains in a state of flux becoming increasingly a fortress of secrecy rather than that of a house of entertainment. The world’s perception of the US Embassy extends the country’s image abroad and is at once a symbol of American vulnerability and one of arrogance and excess.

Conversely, the role of the consulate is less directly tied to national identity and politics. Its smaller scale and flexible mandate provide for a nimble, bottom-up, organizational structure. As a result the consulate has been less architecturally emblematic, more accessible, and better integrated into the local environment. Ultimately its obscured status is more accessible than its larger sibling.

Ed Keller and Moji Baratloo, Spring 2006
Control of water, protocols for its treatment and distribution, and an evaluation of the overall influence on urban morphology will be a key factor for socio-political formations over the coming decades. The impact of these factors on urban use patterns, as well as developing architectural, urban and political morphologies will be the focus of this studio.

As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, one thing is clear: a general economy and scarce natural resources ever more powerfully dominate global relations, and this economy subsumes all political, passional, and imaginative systems. A set of constraints with water, energy and resource management as their prime concern dominates global discourse, which still relies on the residual artifacts of an old school geopolitic, one that represents nation states are the primary arbiter for both global, political and personal agency. As global citizens we are facing a potential crisis of unprecedented dimensions, but also the opportunity for rapid response, growth and change at a pace never before possible.

recent actions by individual cities to adopt the Kyoto Protocol independent of their host nation’s actions on Kyoto point to a new kind of global association emerging that dissolves previous fixed relations and repositions cities as networked mini-states with global agency. [eg. the dozens of US cities connected through ‘Local Governments for Sustainability’.]

will investigate this new relationship between water, networks, and bio-power management and suggest emergent social, political, and economic bodies that can affiliate literally overnight, thus developing new tactics for program invention, landscape control, and indeed resource use.

By engaging in this project, we imply that the new, global, networked city is more than just a disintermediated cultural field that individuals can coopt for new forms of ‘play’, but indeed offers unprecedented opportunities - if cities such as Brisbane and the Gold Coast in Australia can prepare- to channel water and resource use such that they become real organs for social and political equity.

TECHNE- Tectonic and Organizational
The New York Waterfront: ed. Kevin Bone
City of Quartz, Dead Cities: Davis
Organizational Space: Easterling
Critical Path, B. Fuller
Once Upon a Time in the West : Leone Manhatta : Sheeler + Strand


Means Without End: Giorgio Agamben
Geopolitical Aesthetic: Jameson
Practice of Everyday Life: deCerteau
The Accursed Share: Bataille
Fire and Memory: Fernandez-Galiano
A Thousand Plateaus: Gilles Deleuze + Felix Guattari

Psychogeographies of Water and Landscape

Taking Measures Across the American Landscape: Corner + MacLean
Crying of Lot 49: Pynchon
Red Desert: Antonioni The Return : Zvyagintsev
The Kingdom, Element of Crime: Lars von Trier Repo Man : Alex Cox
Delicatessen, City of Lost Children : Caro + Jeunet Fitzcarraldo : Herzog
Mulholland Drive: Lynch Beau Travail : Denis
Stalker: Tarkovsky The Last Wave : Weir
Apocalypse Now : Coppola Bright Future: Kurosawa

Systems Behavior, Material Controls

1000 Years of Non Linear History: Manuel DeLanda
Emergence: Johnson
Hypersea: McMenamin and McMenamin
Smart Mobs: Howard Rheingold
Empire, Multitude: Hardt and Negri
Cymatics, Hans Jenny
Syriana: Gaghan Lessons of Darkness: Herzog
Chinatown: Polanski Videodrome, Crash: Cronenberg
Heat: Mann

Scenarios: Past, Present and Future

Modernity at Large: Arjun Appadurai
Electronic Disturbance, other texts: Critical Art Ensemble
Diamond Age: N. Stephenson
UBIK: Philip K. Dick
Transmetropolitan: Warren Ellis
Shockwave Rider: J. Brunner
Dune : Frank Herbert
Koyanisquatsi : Reggio Playtime : Tati
Apu Trilogy : Satyajit Ray The Day After Tomorrow : Emmerich

Jeffrey Inaba, Spring 2006
The term 'Bubble City' is used to describe the explosive development of urban areas throughout the world that we have experienced in the past three decades. Bubble cities have been of interest to planners and architects for revealing new professional conditions they must or will soon encounter, such as accelerated economic investment and divestment, fast-track planning, and 'instant' construction processes (e.g., Tokyo, Houston, Barcelona, Berlin, "Holland," Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, Dubai, Mumbai, etc.).

or every contemporary city that is hot, now there are several that are not. This studio explored the conceptual situation bubble cities face after the apex of rapid growth. With the growing number of major world cities that have recently hit a plateau, it is possible to examine the efforts of these bubble cities to re-bound in ways that previous cities have not, fueled in part by the not-so-distant experience of irrational prosperity.

The studio used Hong Kong as a case study. Students proposed new directions in light of its 1990s growth, its reunification with China, the 'Asian Economic Crisis,' and SARs. The 'One Country, Two Systems' mantra has effectively shifted from a policy to use Hong Kong as a laboratory to 'learn' from the market economy, to one largely limiting Hong Kong's economic power, expertise, and infrastructure. Hong Kong is an example of a major world city that must invent its future where the advantages of location and advanced infrastructure have been minimized.

HERE'S ONE BIG POOPER, I ALMOST DON'T WANT TO WRITE IT. Its really just the term, the rest seems undeveloped, even malformed. But still.
Ed Keller and Douglas Diaz, Summer
Historically unprecedented relationships emerge today as the centuries-old idea of a 'state of exception' finds increasingly networked channels of operation. The contemporary boundaries of global institutions create utterly new forms of territory, and these require a different range of urban and architectural solutions.

Today an emerging space of freedom and agency may have a chance to install the sociopolitical intensities envisioned by Constant in his New Babylon schemes; fully activated and responsive to Bataille's general economy, for better or worse: catalyzing unexpected transitive relationships in the world system of politics, culture, capital, energy, and information.

The studio began with a four-week project, analyzing precedent models of insurrections (historical or imaginary). A range of filmsâ€"Battle of Algiers, Code 46, Passenger, etc.â€"were screened and discussed to provide a theoretical framework for the design process. After the mid-review, the studio divided into two general camps: either anti- or pro-insurrection.

Projects operated at multiple scales and questioned how they might promote notions of control or freedom at the level of the city, crowd, or individual, through landscape, media, urban design, and architectural intervention. As the nation-state fades as a meaningful construct, the tectonic plates of sociopolitical drift govern all systems, behaviors and interactions. The studio tactically intervened within this geopolitical system to test the limits of architecture.

Ok, tomorrow I will go through last year, but frankly it is not getting that much more helpful. Writing that paragraph at the top was much more helpful.

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