The mixed-use rowhouse is a conundrum of urban proportions.
Along the street’s edge, it holds strong the linear advance. It is relentlessly, absolutely frontal, that wall of brick floating above the fragile but froward storefront. The chaos of density overhead is betrayed from behind: Porches and perches, sheds and trapdoors, the mixed-use rowhouse, from the rear, is a romantic ecology of adaptive habitation.
The discovery of this restless urbanism, paired with an opportunistic collision of grids, calls for the un-designing of the mixed-use rowhouse, the dissolution of singular frontality, and the disassembly of public space.
Over time, the evolution of this typology has lost its identity to suburban notions of the American dream: The historic rowhouse endures as a totem of collective memory and pride of place. Where it can be salvaged from the depths of absence and abuse, it should stand, bandaged and swaddled by modernism in its old age. A new generation of rowhouses surges from the vacant earth to uphold the tradition of material tactility and proportional restraint. Old and new together introduce formal strategies to support grassroots desires for micro-neighborhood networking.
In the proposed composition, there is relief from the tireless monotony of linearity. An oscillating branching of traffic congests the promenade of exchange with a sense of possibility. Frontality is blurred, but not erased altogether - order is maintained but freedom of choice and of chance expand circumstantial fates. The guerrilla becomes the normative. Tactics - material, geometric, programmatic - are adjusted for the specifics of the dynamic immediate conditions, reconciling built and unbuilt environments.
These undefined spaces relish in the hypersocial activities of the consumer in #realtime, solidifying the immediate connections across neighbors. The existing plan produces a sometimes overwhelmingly singular public realm, festering with anonymity; this antiquated model demands a design strategy that can disentangle the reductive figure-ground into appropriate complexity better suited for uses of multilayered interaction, articulating pockets of spatially exclusive voids in the urban fabric. The socio-spatial networks project future growth deeper into the community, radiating agency of utility and recreation. Public space is defined by the public once again.
This site was created as a way to document and showcase the work of a local Pittsburgh artist and architect. The concept for the design was always very simple: the client was looking for a clean aesthetic to underscore the quality of the paintings and drawings (as most physical galleries do). Click through to check out the site. The challenge was to allow for some serendipity in browsing while also providing frameworks of organization amidst a large catalogue of work. While I was the sole designer and developer of the site, there were plenty of online open-source scripts that I used to suppliment the user experience - these are acknowledged in the source code. As with most things digital, I learn as I go, making plenty of mistakes - and happy accidents - along the way.
After playing the classic Carcassonne game a few times, we were won over by the simplicity of the game design and the complexity of the game strategy. But we decided that if we were going to recreate the game, we should take the opportunity to customize it. Pittsburgh’s industrial history provided the backdrop for new game tiles and new rules.
All pieces were drawn in Illustrator and laser cut out of wood (carefully double-sided, with the original game on the back of the tiles). This was a Christmas present for my dad, who loves strategy board games. And yes, it is really small - I wanted us to be able to take it on our family ski trip and not take up too much space in our luggage. No, you do not need tweezers to play, but it does help to have good lighting.
The big changes in the new version are in the end scoring (think Carcassonne + Monopoly + Risk) and two rather complex new rules: The “Culture” rule critiques the historical segregation of ethnic neighborhoods (a pattern still visible in the urban fabric of the city), while the “Contamination” rule exposes the mutual dependence of industry and its workforce. It makes for a cutthroat (read: awesome) version of a well-known game while also highlighting social challenges that we still face today. (Feel free to email for more in-depth rules of gameplay.)
Altius highlights the best and most unique attributes of the city, those idiosyncratic moments of Pittsburgh’s topography and history that are etched in the faces of our built environment and in the memories of those who live here. Improvements to accessibility and functionality on the interior led to a number of constraints on the exterior, but those constraints became opportunities to reevaluate the character of this building’s context. Like many other restaurants that perch along the edge of Mount Washington’s Grandview Avenue, Altius captures and frames the historic vista across the delicate Pittsburgh skyline with sweeping walls of glass that look down from the mountain. Given the choice between a falsely historicized streetfront facade and a poignantly faithful summit overlook facade that pays homage to the city’s true history, as well as its contemporary reputation, we look towards these other established dining facilities for an answer. And the answer is quite clear: this local typology of mountaintop restaurants is all about directing the view. While most restaurants elsewhere attempt to open to the street and fill their back-of-house with service and administrative spaces, the reverse is true for these businesses that thrive in large part because of the views that they offer, views not of the street but of the city to which they belong, one of very few cities where this kind of cliff-dwelling vista is possible. To compensate for the lack of transparency in the streetfront facade, small backlit apertures were introduced, activating the pedestrian space in the evening and providing a more intimate sense of scale throughout the day. These openings gesture offer visual relief while maintaining privacy and protection of the service spaces that lie behind. The entry recedes visually with its darker, warmer shade of material, as physical depth was not possible, and the canopy above welcomes customers in while shielding them from the elements. The horizontality of the panelized product across the front facade pays homage to the customary siding of the area, the scale of the panel mediating and maintaining the building’s commercial identity. The added texture builds anticipation leading to the entry: a material change signals the entrance and a slice of the facade is carved away, allowing one to peer through double-height space behind, and to the spectacular view beyond.
As an architectural intern, I followed this project from concept to realization. Under the guidance of Teresa Bucco, I was able to contribute to each chapter of the project, from pre-design to construction administration. I executed construction documents, research materials, and resolved conflicts across building systems. The restaurant will open this spring - more images will be available upon its completion.
During thesis, a lot of questions are asked of architecture, what it is and what role it plays, about how and how much we shape our environment, and to what extent it shapes us. Some questions have answers, more do not. Many questions - all those beginning with ‘why’ and ‘why not’ - seek to confirm or deny authorial intent. Five years later, we’re still not quite sure what to expect from our audience, and what to give them.
This project begins with the assumption that architecture is an act of communication, a condition which presupposes certain limits regarding architecture’s embodiment and representation. Some semblance of balance is necessary for discourse to establish its presence. Not everything need be balanced, save for two vital forces: hope, held close by the author-architect, and speculation, the readerly operation. Discourse requires a tumbling between knowing and not knowing, epistemic ambiguity motivating the frequent switching of roles and realities.
Doubt and uncertainty provide counterpositions to the hope and speculation continuum. They are important for maintaining a critical distance from the task at hand: skepticism weighs heavy on the potentiality of communication, but also facilitates its possibility.
For the past four months, I’ve engaged two other authors in dialogue, through the ghost of a building: Robert Musil and Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt; one a writer, the other an architect; one a modernist, the other baroque; both Viennese and both unwittingly good conversationalists, all things considered.
This is an invitation to join the discussion.
I have a number of small preclusive statements to make regarding my thesis: I’m as interested in what you make of it as I am in the making of the thing itself – if a thesis falls in the woods with no one around, does it make a sound? I should point out that my thesis is not ‘a building,’ but is about a building, or rather about many possible buildings. It is an active excavation into the liminal void between reality and fiction, and treats each uncovered historic fragment as an opportunity for narrative sense-making.
This semester, I have grown intimately familiar with a building that never was; the thesis is a kind of ongoing record of a memory. It is a story in two parts: The Archive documents and represents various constructed histories spanning the last three centuries, told through the eyes of the house, of Ulrich (The Man Without Qualities), and of me. The Meta-Artefacts reflecting upon the relationships between narrative fragments, exposing and unraveling the various levels of storytelling.
The final chapter: A great event is on the way but nobody has noticed it.
We had some lofty, idealized visions for this little book before we embarked on what became a three-year journey. To publish is to take a position, we said, to document a point of view in order to allow for further development and the generation of discussion. We put a certain amount of faith into the written word, convinced of a certain alchemy that occurs when soft, mushy ideas transform into crystallized concepts.
Despite this naïveté, for better or worse, the publication you hold in your hands has finally come into the world. On the level of the individual essay, writing is a methodology through which one can acquire a more precise and concrete framework to analyze architecture. And as a curative exercise, the journal can begin to examine and question the manner through which knowledge is constructed and disseminated.
The journal, as an idea and as an object, is an attempt to generate intellectual debate and promote a wider theoretical discourse within the school. In an effort to displace the normative discourse on parametricism, inter·punct decomposed the incredibly shiny word “parameter” into its constituent parts: We called for a reconceptualization of the term in response to its recent proliferation as a stand-in for grasshopper attractor points and voronoi aesthetics, looking for a return to substantive discourses involving the history of architecture and its broader context.
This is, finally, the response.
We proposed a series of interventions embedded in the community to create a shared identity between Beechview and Brookline, two neighborhoods in the south hills of Pittsburgh. The interventions onsist of a simple set of materials and a simple set of rules for construction that community members themselves can easily assemble and implement around their neighborhood. The flexibility of the system allows for the project to embed itself in a variety of different locations – the site conditions are adapted into the autonomous design process.
Currently, both neighborhoods are doing well for themselves and their commercial cores are beginning to attract the attention of other Pittsburgh-dwellers. However, there are a few areas that could use some improvement – some vacancies, some maintenance issues – and other areas that, though in good condition, aren’t very good at calling attention to themselves – unlike the commercial cores, the greenway, for instance, is tucked away on the hillsides, easily passed by speeding cars.
As a network, the interventions act together to bring attention to, to provoke community involvement in, and to ultimately solve some of these social and environmental issues. Grouped in smaller clusters to provide visual connections and local identity, the interventions center around a hub construction center and community space.
There are few moments of true atonement in the arts – reconciliation and unity are too often fleeting, and their memories of each other are only seen as ghosts, traces of inspired collaboration and compositional cohesion. By the mid-nineteenth century, as the foggy smoke of what Europe was finally starting to accept as their modern world was suddenly pierced through by a raging locomotive: architecture, dance, and music had begun to evolve into a symbiotic ecology of modernity. The opera house, the typological manifestation of this union, began around this time to demand a collective response through collective experience; the audience became a machine, one whose movements and reactions could almost be predicted, but also an intermediary between the not yet mass-consumption of the arts and the public. This was also a time of increased exchange between countries, a miniature (European) globalization, facilitating contact and critique of cultures at home and abroad.
The proposal was to study three cities, three buildings, and three ballets, each representative of a moment of burgeoning modernity – planned / constructed / performed at a time nearing intense social, political, economic, and representational transformation. Each becomes a case study of change initiated through the activation of an art.
In my efforts to keep a neatly-trimmed resume, some of my earlier endeavors have recently been pushed off the page, but they are very much still a part of who I am today: for ten years, I received training in and performed classical and modern ballet. The decade-long regiment eventually took its toll on me physically and, upon the beginnings of my infatuation with architecture, fell from my mind. But thanks to one of my closest friends and mentors, I have begun the journey back again, this time through the mind instead of through the bruised and battered, bleeding feet. The inspiration for this proposal came after attempting a post-performance discussion with my colleague, who, without any formal knowledge basis in dance, was unable to describe the meaning behind what he had seen, unable even to project his own meaning onto an art he saw as a completely aesthetic exercise divorced from human meaning. Ballet and architecture both struggle through this conflict by similar means, the realization of spatial form, and both have historically fluctuated drastically over time in their ability to influence public perception of the arts.
The choice of these three sets of three – Don Quixote at Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna, La Fille mal gardée at Palais Garnier in Paris, and Les Ballets Russes at Semperoper in Dresden – best represent, in my own limited experience, changing notions of collectivity, of modernity, and of movement through space, but also relate to some of the research projects I have undertaken at my time at Carnegie Mellon.
Choreography is a form of writing that both proceeds and succeeds the action of the dance. Movement at three scales – the scale of the city, the scale of the building, the scale of the stage – is not only recorded but speculated, investigated, and explicated, and the movement is reduced to lines both literal and figurative.
Antithetical to the dérive is Nolli’s ichnographic map – but, here, the walk, or collection of walks, is less recorded than it is memorialized in the simply-defined built environment which form the space of the drifting movement.
1869; Sicardsburg & van der Nü̈ll
The first twenty or so steps ascending into the space of the performance, proceeding but anticipating the first turn of the body, the first chance to look back from where you came, and the first time to reach above or around the first ebbing globe of light that sits at each corner, a beacon pulling you forward, these first steps are the moment of collective reflection and the moment of knowing where you are, where you stand, and where you are going. Going up to come back down.
Don Quixote; 1740, 1869 (v); Petipa, Nureyev
There is content movement everywhere, not just dancing but fanning and clapping and wiping of tables, cluttered movement for the sake of movement, suggesting that all right and all is real. The excessive gesticulation consumes the stage, creeping in on the dance to the point that there is no room for anything but the movement, all aflutter in a frantic attempt to overcome the fantastic nature of the need for action. The narrative consumes the dance, bones and all, but, entangled in a thick web of sound, thrashes about, shedding its own skin in the process. Now exposed, it disintegrates with the still violent music and releases the dance yet again. The conductor himself is in a trance, moving every inch of his body to pull the music along with him – the spotlight above him only helps to emphasize what is already apparent, that he is the star of the show and that all eyes, audience, dancers, and musicians alike, all eyes are on him.
The opera house is lavish and self-indulgent, but softened with a dreamy air of impossibility. It is impossible not to exhale heavily as you cross beneath the third and final set of archways before stepping onto the staircase. Depending on how long you can hold your beneath for, you might make it all the way to the first landing before you inhale again, and may feel quite light in the head, not because you are struck by the beauty of the place and the glittering pendants of light that hang above you, but because you are swimming in a stream of fabric and camera flashes, dresses and scarves and suits and flashing bulbs, and have no where to look but up, where others peer down from their perches, pacing and prancing and wondering if the show has already begun.
La Fille mal Gardée; 1789, 1960 (v); Ashton
Sometimes, we don’t watch a performance or a dance. We don’t see the set and we don’t see the stage, but maybe we see one dancer. This is when the extraordinary occurs, when everyone and everything else is perfect enough not to be distracting and the dancer herself is the only thing anyone can see. The only music to be remembered is the music that moves the dancer ahead, pushes her to keep herself afloat, to keep falling and falling and never coming down. It is these nights, and these notes, that become the foundation for our memories which provoke and inspire us. Dance can be measured by the infinitely small fragmentations within a second, grossly reduced to a series of expressions that cannot be expressed. Memories which could not be captured in ink and pinned to the paper of the pen.
1841, 1878, 1985; Semper
The temple of voyeurism has been replaced with the labyrinth of the collective – steps up, steps down, visual and physical barricades restricting movement and vision, architecture embracing the cacophony of spatial obstructions in an ode to the absurd. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – the theatricality is made even more apparent. The promenade disappears behind a field of columns, performers acting without audience, playing without direction or purpose.
Les Ballets Russes (Le Sacre du Printemps); 1913, 2012; Nijinsky, Godani
Dance has no past but only a present sense of time kept aloft by a series of shared beliefs based on powerful emotional and experiential action. The ritual of the dance, constructed and reconstructed out of traces of memories of a past that might not have happened, takes the place of any sort of historiography it could have had. And this ritual, a sacrificial act of atonement for the arts, is performed with unmitigated commitment to the release of energy from the body, and with the faith in moving beyond the envelope of one’s own being. The dance is frustrated by its own impossibility, only satisfied when it completes itself through a final act of force: a dance to the death, unrestrained surrender to the the music, that parasitic sound taking root within the body, squeezing out of it all possible movement until none remains, this death and the rebirth of something new. Constantly falling and never allowed to reach the ground, the dance is an exercise in the futility of reality. A young girl, the Chosen One, falls three times, overcome by the necessity of the dance, the necessity of the individual. The third fall is her last. She finally finds the ground, and she becomes it.
This project began with the research of Rudolph Schindler, his architecture and the chaotic documentation thereof. A short stay in LA to experience the buildings firsthand and look through the architect’s archive at the UC Santa Barbara offered an intense perspective of the life and work on this iconic figure of west-coast modernism. Throughout the research process, we attempted to record the Kings Road House in Revit – bending and breaking the program while attempting to do irregular concrete forms and unconventional, if simple, connection details. The completed digital model was eventually used to create a physical model of the house and surrounding site. A secondary layer of the process took place in the form of comics, narrating Schindler’s stories as well as the rogue Revit-ing.
If architecture and confinement are both about definite physical boundaries, it is how we read these boundaries, these limitations, and how we interact with them, that is most telling of our position of power or lack thereof. Confinement is at its most oppressive when it is explicitly felt in the body. In an environment that one cannot, or feels one cannot, change, individuals often surrender the majority of their power – the ability to act – to those that are, or fell they are, entitled to initiate such revision. The confined communities are offered a choice, and a means of communication.
An ethnographic exercise is conducted across multiple confined communities: a blighted neighborhood, a halfway house, a federal prison. Local methods of adaptation to various stages of confinement (tagging, patterning, screening, etc.) are reconsidered through the lens of design and applied to the speculative reevaluation of a rehabilitation center for former inmates in Baltimore, MD. Foucaultian distinctions between “concentration” and “distraction” are blurred in an attempt to offer the confined curratorial opportunities, and, in so doing, a new level of control over their own lives.
An odd lot at the edge of two neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, between a residential neighborhood and a commercial center, a barnacle attached to the public transit busway, a community of commuters. The design of apartments on Ellsworth Avenue was an opportunity to choreograph occupancy through narrative: These are the lives within the shaggy building on the edge of everything.
His books were the only things left to unpack, lying at the bottom of every box and bag he had brought with him. He checked his watch. 8:37 already. AM. With a lecture to give in less than an hour, he heaved his weight up from the floor and stumbled around for his jacket. It hadn’t moved from where he threw it down almost twelve hours before, still lying on the doormat just outside the door, soaked from the rain now generously streaming across the folds of the garment and flooding his pockets.
He had also left his boots outdoors and so unflinchingly poured their contents out all over the porch before pulling them on, hopping about, thankful at least that it is September and not February.
His body heavier than usual, continuing to accept the gifts of the indulgent storm clouds above, Wilhelm trudged along the road to the university. At 57 years old, in the city he had lived his entire life in, he never felt so lost. The ground below his rain-soaked boots was too flat, and strange.
He had a car once, a 1985 VW Jetta, a sort of olive green color, but had taken the buses almost every day of his life, down the hill, up the hill to work, down the hill, up the hill to home. But now, he would walk. A sort of penance game he would play. Punishment for whatever it was he had done.
A co-worker from the university’s English Department had driven him to the new apartment last night. He couldn’t live in the old house anymore. After three generations of family had lived out what they promised themselves was the American Dream, perched up on top of Troy Hill, he had ripped himself away. And no one was left to care if he did. Three months. He had sat in that house for three months before he realized he had to leave, that there was no reason to stay now that Sammy had gone.
His only carried possession that managed to escape the thorough drenching on that autumn morning was his 40-year-old copy of Ulysses. It was the only thing he cared enough about to put into a plastic bag and shield from the weather.
According to Sammy, it was the only thing he cared enough about at all. It was a shared love of Joyce that had brought them together, but now it had now also collapsed a marriage. He promised her everything, and had given her nothing. He plodded along the concrete sidewalk, watching for cracks and fractures to trip over.
One of his grad students, Felix, had mentioned that he was moving out of his small apartment on Ellsworth to be closer to campus, and Wilhelm, at the urging of some of his colleagues, had asked when Felix would be out by. Despite his student’s warnings that the professor would not only be the oldest person there, but also probably the quietest, Wilhelm became determined to move. He had to get out of the neighborhood and start over.
But he wondered if things would really change at all. He looked up as he passes under Highland, where earth peals up from earth and crosses itself in a pious gesture. The dogged rain persisted.
Felix stopped by the apartment later that evening to collect his desk and bicycle. He knocked twice, and then again, before he heard the shuffling of feet and the door swung forward. The professor climbed back onto his chair, standing over what appeared to be a map made of books. There were small piles, little clusters, connected by lines of books with open pages, pages torn from books, mounds of books, all around the chair – a sleek, funny-looking and inappropriately modern kitchen stool that Felix wasn’t sure would hold the professor’s weight.
After talking him down from the chair, making a pot of coffee, and putting the books back into their boxes, Felix considered his professor’s condition. It wasn’t the house in Troy Hill that he was holding onto, but the books, or one book in particular, the one that had made his career but ruined his life. Felix decided a simple suggestion was in order: Wilhelm should donate his copy of Ulysses.
There was an empty room that all residents of the building shared, a fairly mundane space with white walls and wood floors, a few empty shelves, and large table stretching from one end to the other. With most of the residents still in school or at the start of their careers, they all had more books than they knew what to do with in the tiny apartments. Various solutions had been proposed – some considered converting the kitchen cabinets into book storage space; others wanted to install hammocks so they could stack books on the bed.
There was a library right across the busway, well within walking distance, and almost all had access to additional libraries at their respective universities and institutions, but it was the mass of books, their own books, that had accumulated over their years in academia and needed a home as much as they did. The “reading room” as many residents dubbed it, became a place to share the diversity of their collections without worrying about keeping tabs on who had loaned what, where books had gone, because the room itself worked well for leisurely reading.
It took a while to convince Wilhelm to hand over the book, but there was something relieving about saying goodbye, getting a sense of closure over his old life and the old book. Felix made sure the professor didn’t need anything else from him before he left, and suggested he talk to some of the “kids,” as Wilhelm called them, about what they did and where they were from, get to know the neighbors.
Having anticipated getting at least some help carrying the desk from the grizzly old man, Felix was forced to knock on the door of the only person he knew would still be awake, and the one person he had hoped to avoid on his last trip to the area. Penelope answered the door, as he knew she would, smirked, and agreed to help.
As he drove away, he watched her slink back from the dark road, towards the light flooding out from the reading room.
Removing the crayons, some stray legos, and other miscellaneous items from her overcoat pockets, Olive threw them all on the counter and started the stovetop. Still wearing her jacket, she filled a large pot of water, sprinkled some salt, and rummaged around the pantry for a box of pasta.
She watched the pot, waiting for it to boil, sitting at the kitchen table and tipping her chair back towards the wall. The sun was setting behind her, storm clouds racing to consume the purple-orange skies already dissolving on their own accord. Getting warmer, she finally removed her jacket. More washable markers and a travel first-aid kit spilled out.
The pot was only now beginning to bubble; Olive paced across the kitchen, wondering what to do tomorrow. As a kindergarten teacher, she had the luxury of true weekends. But now that she had the time, she didn’t know what to do with it.
A few times the year before, she had considered returning to school – she loved her kids, but with so many layoffs, it was hard not to think about what ifs. Although she was a teacher, she spent more time listening than speaking for herself; she was starting to crave conversation with people her own age, people who she could engage in an intellectual dialogue beyond an argument about who gets to use the blue ruler and who has to concede to take the green.
That was, after all, why she had decided to live here. Within a short bike from her school, a friend of a friend mentioned the housing complex to her and described the residents as all her “type” of people: other quiet but smart, driven young professionals in the city. But it had been six months since she had moved in, and no one had come around to introduce themselves, except for one man, she couldn’t remember his name, who had knocked on her door accidentally once, apologized profusely in starkly articulate language and introduced himself, whatever his name was, before he bolted away from the door again; she couldn’t be sure he actually lived there, though she had seen him a few times following the incident. He looked like a student.
She had seen some of the other residents, or some people she assumed to be residents, around, carrying groceries or books, sometimes on the lawn or terraces, sometimes in passing on the stairway. There always seemed to be more than the six actually leasing the apartments, but she doubted her own judgment; her students’ names, she could remember after the first day, but everyone else... she chalked it up to the intensity of personalities of little kids.
Finally pouring the Farfelle into the pot, Olive looked out of the window above the sink. The sky was grey now – still with some hints of purple, but desaturated and heavy with darkness – and the courtyard was empty. Just out of sight, to the right of the window, she saw what she thought was a sort of hazy glow, somehow inappropriate in its density and color to be coming from someone else’s apartment.
Todd would not take the bus over the bridge. Every bridge that he crossed, he thought should be on foot. Even on days when he rode to work on his bike, he walked the bridges. It had to do with slowing down, or so he told himself. Todd fancied himself a poet; he is a computer programmer, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
While he walked, he tried to remember the morning before. It was too cold to be September, and he shivered. Penny had woken him up – his cat, Daedalus, had escaped again and had she had found him walking through her newest project. Daedalus was missing again this morning, but would be back, probably with Penny. He kept finding himself in her apartment – Todd suspected it was because she kept her windows open and cooked a lot of chicken. Not that Penny herself smelled of chicken, or her apartment. Penny smelled refreshingly normal. Todd spent innumerable hours of his day working with overweight and underweight middle-aged men who were apparently not all that concerned about personal hygiene.
Not even halfway across the bridge, he stopped abruptly. He looked up, staring at the lattice of metalwork. He remembered that it had been foggy and that he hadn’t wanted to get out of bed, probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the cat. He couldn’t remember a reason why he wouldn’t be able to remember the morning. Okay, numbers, he could start with numbers. He always remembered numbers.
Number of knocks, steps to the door, exhales before turning the handle, words exchanged, beads on her bracelet as she handed him the cat. Number of steps she walked away before he closed the door.
It started to rain, again, every day, almost clockwork – he had almost decrypted the pattern – and he pulled his jacket up over his head and ran the rest of the way, leaving behind the numbers of everything and his memories of the morning he couldn’t remember anyway.
Vision disintegrating into the blustering shower, he found himself flat on the sidewalk. Someone else was besides him, similarly flustered and shaken, having dropped the now-soggy papers she had been carrying. She blushed visibly behind her glasses as she proceeded to pick them, and herself, up from the concrete. He should have helped her, but he just stared, which made her blush more. His memory was failing him again, and her name – he must know her – lay at his feet.
He counted her steps as she walked away, and then stood up.
The community of Garfield feels invested in the well-being of their neighborhood, but residents do not have access to certain basic amenities and services. As part of the 6% Place Initiative, the Dearborn Street Market Incentive aims to provide residents of the Garfield area with goods and commodities that would be otherwise difficult for them to obtain. At the same time, the project has the potential to attract people from the greater Pittsburgh region or beyond, which would help to strength widespread community identity, an important goal outlined in the Six Percent Place Study. This further stimulates the neighborhood by bringing outside capital into the area and providing a venue for entrepreneurship to residents. The establishment of a permanent (i.e. lasting over a period of at least several years, not year-round) market with a physical presence in the community, with a specific focus on food products, will improve the quality of living in Garfield and help to attract creative workers.
Although Dearborn is classified as a residential street, its proximity to Penn Avenue and access to a number of community establishmentsFor example, church groups, youth groups, fire departments, and education or athletic groups. help to overcome some of the difficulties that come with introducing such an active social and commercial environment that comes with a market. Dearborn is currently suffering from challenges related to its high vacancy rates that have made even community members question the safety of their environment: The street market is a way to take a block back.
The benefits of a regularly occurring market to a host neighborhood include access to certain fresh food products that have been raised or husbanded in or near the community – further promoting the economic and social ties of Garfield’s community. Prices are not inflated, by minimizing transportation costs, and any carbon footprint associated with shipping goods is mediated. Entrepreneurial individuals in the community will be provided with the opportunity to establish a profitable business, and larger organizationsThe street is capped by the St. Lawrence O’Toole Community Center to the east, and also contains the BGC Community Activity Center. in the area can come together to network, generate revenue, as well as promote individual agendas.
Many neighborhoods within the city of Pittsburgh have healthy, thriving market cultures: residents of Garfield are aware of successes in other areas and are excited by the possibility of a local market.This information and all thereafter relating to the opinions of Garfield residents are based off 1) the community meeting held on September 7, 2011, 2) a street-wide survey of Dearborn, individual and group interviews conducted with everyone who was home at the time, on September 14, 2011, 3) introductory conversations with contacts provided by Nina Barbuto on September 17, 2011, and 4) a community meeting held on October 4, 2011. Because nearby stores are convenience-oriented and do not provide fresh groceries and other provisional foodstuffs, residents believe that a market will fill a vacant niche in neighborhood economy.
For the market to succeed and become sustainable, a framework for its foundation and growth must be established, and community leaders must take hold of the initiative and move forward with an established agenda.
For those who have just moved or are undergoing the process of moving into the community, the market will not only provide a place to shop, but is an ongoing event that allows them to meet and develop relationships with their neighborhos, an activity that allows people of all ages and backgrounds to come together. For those completely outside of the Garfield community, the market will be a way of forming ties between the detached neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. Garfield has opportunities that ousiders may not typically get to see, and the market would be a way to introduce these resources to a community beyond its own locality.
Patient K has come for only one session of psychoanalysis but his participation seems enthusiastic, despite his inability to fit properly lengthwise on the couch. Even when he is not talking directly about himself, he seems aware of the entwined relationships he has with his own work. Patient K began the session by explaining his difficulty in securing a time to meet and introducing himself through the explanation of how he came to architecture.
Patient K must cope with a struggle emerging between the reality of the pace at which his career is developing and the desire he has for this development to occur more quickly. If we look at the slowness with which he begins his pursuit of architecture – skirting around the profession at first, and then with his first major commitment to the profession in the form of a heavily researched book – some internal contradiction manifests. He has to overcome these burdens of slowness, of the insecurities of inexperience, and as a result, has become enraptured by his own ego. But his awareness of this shift in personality develops a plastic protective shell of ironic aptitude, projecting judgments that are indistinguishable between the demoralizingly honest beliefs he holds true and the bitterly saturated ironic intent that lies behind so many of his statements.
Patient K has self-diagnosed claustrophobia based on his aversion to the inclusivity of his profession. His critiques of fellow architects and their respective architectures are merciless – when he stops, he is gasping for breath; there is nothing left; he has critiqued himself into a corner. Everything is nothing is everything.
He soon continues, re-exhilarated by his artificially constructed consciousness of a world condemned.
Patient K unravels a concept, of Bigness, adoring the potency of its complexity. There are undeniable parallels between his description of Bigness and his earlier description of himself – and the observed description my colleagues and I will impose upon him; along with the desirable complexity, there is a level of misunderstanding, an excusable exclusion of morals, a desire to exist alongside of but not interact with the world outside. The defensive techniques proposed in the Bigness ideology are dismantlement and disappearance – as are Patient K’s. To compare his descriptions of these techniques as applied to Bigness against his own personal characteristics: If dismantlement is an offensive technique of sheepherding activities into space, to Patient K’s behavior it is an outward organizational structure that allows for manipulation of any conversation – to a different end of course. And if disappearance is a sort of pseudo-existence, it also allows him to move through crowds, blazon celebrity of the architecture world that he is, awkwardly unnoticed.
As the Rabbit, the Crab, the clotted and whimsical Slag of Modernity, Patient K has lowered his own expectations for himself by neutralizing progression or improvement. If positive change is either unattainable or invalidated by the dynamism of societal development, why bother? He doesn’t answer directly – progress is not what drives his fervency of production. Negativity liberates euphorically.
He choreographs his narrative to anticipate and override the rationality of analysis, and negates the necessity of prompts as he elaborates on his journey from journalism to architecture: “The journalist is driven by an insatiable curiosity coupled with the ability to find and condense information quickly.” And yes, in his work these traits are visible, the inclination towards the unearthing of truths, the compilation, organization, and representation of information. It is soon apparent, though, that this curiosity was unfulfilled by this initial vocation, as was the desire to create. Patient K’s desires may lie in a deeper, Oedipus-like complex to overcome the fallacies of his father’s filmmaking, to reach a broader audience.
Patient K’s most intrusive symptom seems to be the exaggeration of his subject of criticism to the point that he can comfortably accept what he is criticizing once it has reached this exaggerated form. These cyclical obsessive-compulsive mannerisms make for a pessimistic and extremely critical outlook on the external world while, through complex mental juggling, permits the projection of an extremely satisfied attitude of the self. The thought process of someone with this fixation is extremely complex and yet unproductive – Patient K permits himself to produce, insofar as he designs, constructs both written and built forms, but his aims are obscured by his concealed Atychiphobia, thus the need to qualify the work with an overindulgent eradication of the possibility of productivity and progress.
We all really wanted to hate Gondelsonas. But if you strip away all the convoluted pretension of a scholar who wants to be noticed, and you change some of his really poor word choices to reflect his argument more accurately (basically, he needs a new editor), the poor bastard might actually be allowed to stay for a round of drinks.
So Gondelsonas buys everyone a round (with his ID of questionable legitimacy) to prolong his stay at the OhNo PoMo Pub. Not much later, already standing on the table, he proudly proclaims that he is going to save “rhetoric” with the help of a definition that he may or may not have borrowed from Barthes. Rhetoric, he says, consists of piles of discourse – this sounds rather repulsive, so he corrects himself: LAYERS, layers of discourse. Yes, yes everyone is nodding in agreement: who doesn’t like layers?
The first layer, foundational or functional or maybe neither (but maybe it is an abyss! Derrida is sitting at the bar and overhears, chuckles to himself in typical haughty French fashion), a meaning we take for granted, but then (Gondelsonas is getting excited here) there is a second layer, and so a second discourse, that occurs when architects transform, edit the design, over and over again. And that transformation is rhetorical! Of course! And get this: it “coexists with the first without destroying its original meaning”!
Unfortunately for Gondelsonas, we like Wigley better, even when he says more or less the same thing. Wigley buys everyone tequila shots, and Gondelsonas passes out on the floor. Wigley now has all slightly impaired eyes on him.
He retells the story of the transformation, but things seem more interesting. It is a story of survival, of dependency; there is drama and violence (violence in particular). The supplement is necessary! The metaphor, an unsavory character of questionable morals, has crept into the picture – rhetoric, which may or may not be a translation, or ornament, or writing (mocking its own origins of oration), is nonetheless not more than a hiccup, because, as Wigley likes to remind his audience, things are so much more complicated than they seem.
Mugerauer challenges Wigley to a game of darts. Darts are so much more REAL than the drunken tales of yesteryear. But, almost inevitably, Mugerauer is thrown out after one dart nearly grazes the exquisitely composed white hairdo of the philosopher at the bar. He is shouting something about nihilism and illusions of reality and nostalgia. Heidegger offers to drive him home, forgetting that he walked between the ground and the sky, all the way from his hut in the Black Forest (i.e. his car does not, and never did, exist).
Wigley is still the championed hero of the hour; they order another round of shots and Wigley continues to babel. But Eisenman, who has been quietly listening besides Derrida at the bar – who is now LOL-ing himself, audible from the booth in the corner – has heard his name thrown around a handful of times already, so he doesn’t feel particularly intrusive when he interrupts Wigley’s monologue.
He knows he is operating outside of architecture’s “natural vocabulary”; he doesn’t need Graves to tell him. He knows he is not purely translating concepts from philosophy or literary theory; he doesn’t need Wigley – or Gondelsonas – to tell him. He gets a little whiny when Derrida tells him he needs to do architecture – although ultimately, he likes the challenge of having to DO something in the end, homeless people and details of construction aside. But he isn’t here to clarify any of those things tonight, or at least not explicitly.
Tonight’s story evolves from one of instabilities and agitation to outright denial of “flow from word to its meaning”: the possibility of the ghostly “rhetorical figure” that “contains [the thing’s] absence” rather than represents it – a magician’s disappearing act with nothing to stand for what was lost – it is not a metonym; he denies that it could also be a metaphor, but really, it kind of is, if only a sort of meta-metaphor (if metaphors use the tangible to aid in the description of the intangible, Eisenman is looking for something tangibly intangible to open up readings and misreadings of the original, or a fictionalized account of the original).
Even at his simplest, Eisenman can still make you black out as your mind swirls around the hallucinatory paradoxical propositions that should be comprehensible, but always lead you back to the beginning again.
The morning after, when you wake up and are seeing double, triple even, you wonder if everyone was really saying the same thing. And then, wonder if it matters at all, because as long as you’re “soliciting the edifice of metaphysics,” at the very least, it must have been a pretty good night.
There exists within the terminal typology an inherent contradiction, architecture of dissettlement. The type inspires a hybrid between building and landscape, demarcating arrival to a place, symbolizing context without necessarily becoming a part of it. As landscape or landmark, it can be mapped, or become a map. The public codifies the typology of the terminal, to rearrange the programmatic and cultural conflicts. The terminal, then, can become a proto·typ·ology. It can become an initiator of social revision, replacing hard-edged dialectics with rhetorical exchange. Thrown into the public sphere of transportation, of contemporary nomadic tendencies, it quietly opportunizes civic discourse, awakens communication.
More coming soon.
We say with pride that ours is the age of the Information Revolution: not only are words and images exchanged at ludicrously fast rates, but the information itself rapidly changes through our discoveries, developments, and destruction. This necessarily dynamic relationship with a world in flux suggests that, despite our increasing investment in all things green and a growing concern about our impact on the environment, society’s condition is far from one of absolutes. What emerges from this instable global state are questions about how virtual and natural environments collide in the ongoing production of our built environment. With sustainability, though, definitive answers are still hard to come by.
One of the most unlikely contributors to the discussion on sustainability is Reyner Banham. Raised and educated as an engineer, he praised America’s worship of the automobile, encouraged technologies that allowed for near-complete environmental control, and was fascinated by all things mechanical. His admiration for the car led him to love Los Angeles and its sprawling non-plan. With writing and lifestyle saturated with popular culture, he wasn’t bothered by consumerism, either. As if all that did not completely condemn him to a camp of ecologically-ignorant theoreticians, he also largely dismissed attempts at environmentally-conscious architecture of his time.
Although his values initially seem to conflict with today’s sustainability checklists, his shrewd critique of early environmentalism remains relevant for today’s conversation. More importantly, though, his untiring interest in “man, machine, and wilderness” prompted emphatic investigation of the roles and interrelations of each. Reyner Banham, Scenes in America Deserta (Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith Inc / Peregrine Smith Books, 1982), 92. This triad of humanity, technology, and environment played a crucial role in his written investigations of architecture. Specifically, his critique of Modernism offers a parallel avenue for viewing the future of our current Sustainability movement. As civilization mutates and conforms to the constrains incurred by contemporary concerns, we return to Banham as a complex enough figure to stay afloat amidst the ambiguity and diversity of these sustainable issues.
There was just as much said on the basis of Banham’s unsustainability while he was alive, which he addresses directly in his writing. In the introductory chapter, titled “An Unwarranted Apology,” to the second edition of his book The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, he says:
[I]n the five years or so after this book first appeared [in 1969], the period of growing concern about the apparently irreversible depletion of the Earth’s energy resources and the pollution of the biosphere [...] this book got progressively worse and worse reviews – it was a history of the use of environmental energy and proposed not anathema on that use and was therefore made out to be a tract in favor of wasting energy.
Reyner Banham, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Second Edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 13. He makes no immediate claims to the contrary, but identifies a layer of complexity not being addressed, and proposes that his book is, rather than propaganda for energy consumption, an introduction to other elements of design that must be considered in addition to ecological efforts. He does not deny the energy crisis, but recognizes that a generally reductivist approach to a multifaceted problem will not actually solve it.
Likewise, as Banham saw the architectural profession retreating to older forms of construction in hopes of reducing their impact on the environment, he chastised architects for their ignorance of comfort and convenience:
Rather than calling for more efficient air-conditioning, the call was for the abandonment of air-conditioning altogether, no matter who might suffer. If light-weight buildings, however appropriate in all other counts, were poor insulators, the call was not for better insulation, but for heavy-weight structures in traditional masonry.
Ibid. Technical appreciation and social awareness led him to critique low-tech solar housing as “exploitive in more domestic ways that its (largely male) designers do not observe,” Ibid., 287. perceiving that low-tech often meant high-maintenance to a building’s inhabitants. The broad scope of Banham’s curiosity allowed him to evaluate architecture simultaneously from afar and from within, the varying distance offering different perspectives to the same design problems. Banham’s knack for noticing things others had missed was owed in part to his well-earned status as Enfant Terrible – he was looking for problems buried within conventional ideas.
Since Banham’s interests and observations were not limited to the realm of architecture, the frequent connections he drew across fields (of art, of science, of popular culture) meant he was deeply concerned about contemporary context when his critique of architecture finally bubbled to the surface. He felt strongly that the design of buildings and objects should reflect present cultural themes. Banham considered regressions to vernacular architecture in his own time as being stricken with “cultural rigidity” and declared these times of buildings “inadequate” for the demands of modern living. Ibid., 305.
Even as a historian analyzing the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, built in 1903, Banham praises “its total adaptation in section and plan to the environmental system employed,” Banham, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Second Edition, 82. but later says that “the external aspect of the Royal Victoria Hospital [...] demonstrates with painful clarity the total irrelevance of detailed architectural ‘style’ to the modernity of the functional and environmental parts.” Ibid, 83. Banham is an advocate for Modernism, but only in completeness. For Banham, both theory and design must reflect their own culture. Quoting Banham’s article “Neo-Liberty: The Italian Retreat from Modern Architecture,” Nigel Whiteley writes,
The idea of a revival would always be anathema to Banham. A revival may be viable if you think in terms of form and style, but if, like Banham, you commit yourself to the idea of an attitude or spirit, determined by the conditions of the day, then a revival can be contemplated only in unusual circumstances: ‘The only conceivable justification for reviving anything in the arts is that the reviver finds himself culturally in a position analogous to that of the time he seeks to revive.’
Nigel Whiteley, Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002), 17. Architecture must then be, at least in the eyes of Reyner Banham, completely reliant upon cultural circumstance, not just in the technologies it utilizes, but in the manifestation of the building’s form and experience. Banham’s approach was a critical view of history allowing for the emergence of speculative futures. He understood society’s contradictory impulses towards the nostalgia and tradition of the past, and the comforts of present and future advancements in technology:
[M]ost citizens [demand] ancient monuments and tomorrow’s mechanical aids simultaneously and in the same place. They get neither, because on one side is a tradition which cannot be expanded to deal with new developments without disintegrating, and on the other hand a disorderly pressure of new developments whose effect – because they are competitive and lack an integrating discipline – is disruptive anyhow.’
Reyner Banham, “1960 - Stocktaking,” in A Critic Writes: Essays by Reyner Banham, edited by Mary Banham, Paul Barker, Sutherland Lyall, and Cedric Price (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996), 63. To Banham, topicality was an important element of the context-driven architecture: history becomes completely imbedded into the present so there is no chance we can ignore it. Yet it is somehow much easier to turn away from the modern in favor of romanticized antiquity. The evolving nature of society and industry implies an evolution of architecture, while regressions in architecture indicate a return to an earlier, more primitive state of civilization. Banham undoubtedly noted the negative implications of such a regression.
Needless to say, revivalism and vernacular low-tech architecture both took a significant beating from Banham’s banter. However, he saw that, in certain conditions, aspects of a culture do not undergo heavy amounts of change and the environment itself stays very much the say. In such circumstances, he respected the appropriateness of an approach to the execution of design, even if it remained relatively unchanged. As he says in an introduction to the work of Foster Associates,
The lesson of building history is not that one particular building type of construction is superior or less wasteful or more natural than others, but that many modes of construction have long been understood to be subtly appropriate to different sorts and conditions of a buildings and you cannot tell which is more appropriate simply by looking – the proof is in the performance.
Banham laments, “This, alas, is beyond the mental capacity of too many of our architectural pundits and public mouthpieces who want immediate optical signs that a building is ‘low technology’ and therefore (as their limited understanding believes) not wasteful of energy and materials.” He returns to his critique of the response to the energy crisis of the early 1970s: Banham questioned the permanence of heavy, traditional architecture, its inability to adapt, and its overall disconnect from the modern world. Reyner Banham, “Introduction.” In Foster Associates (London: RIBA Publications, 1979), 5. This idea applies to both high- and low-tech methods of building. Despite the assumptions of many at this time, low-tech buildings can be wasteful, too, not only in their excessive use of materials, but in their failure to meet the standards of living that allow for a high quality of life and the efficient work of the inhabitants. Banham sees a building as successful when it works to serve the needs of its occupants, when it is not just functional but also honest about that functionality.
While traveling across the deserts of the United States, Banham asks, “But what is an architecture, great or small, that is proper to this arid zone?” Banham, Scenes in America deserta, 87. We might half expect him to spout out endorsements of technologically-enhanced bubbles of completely controlled environment. But Banham, as always, had the unnerving ability to change his mind, “and allow experience and his considered response to shape judgment.” Whiteley, 409. So in response to his own rhetorical question, Banham writes:
It seems to be an architecture of cool, thick-walled boxes that can conversely, retain the heat that the sun pours on them all day and give it back to the house in the cold of the night; an architecture that jealously retains the heat of the fireplace in the chilly days of winter. It was what the Indians built in their pueblos, ancient and modern [...] It is a mode of building that is currently back in fashion among the ecologically aware, like friends of ours now domiciled near Bernalillo, New Mexico, who are slowly building with their own hands a complex, sun-trapping house with thick walls of traditional adobe blocks. They have imposed on themselves an exercise of back-breaking toil and great economic sacrifice which I might regard as yet another example of the capacity of intellectuals for romantic masochism, were it not that the part of the house that is built and inhabited, and as compactly utilized as the interior of a ship, works remarkably well in the bright thin light of winter under the twin peaks of the Sandia Mountains. It drinks in the heat of the sun by day and retains the heat of the stove by night, and does all the proper practical things that its pragmatic, designer-trained, problem-solving inhabitants would ask of it.
Banham, Scenes in America deserta, 87. The design of this house might not be modern, but is “capable of accepting useful technical innovations like steel framed window casements.” Ibid. Although the building utilizes ancient construction techniques and materials, it is easily adapted to the technologies – and therefore also the comforts – of today. Banham’s analysis of the adobe house returns to this emphasis on performance, a word we hear all too often in today’s sustainability rhetoric. His direct experiences with the architecture are measurable proof that it works in its efficiency in use, its compliance to technological change, and its relationship to the permanence of the desert context.
Regardless of style, Banham saw that performance and engagement of context are both important to the success of a building’s design. Appropriateness and “sophistication” Praising the resourcefulness and intelligence in the design of the Eskimo’s snow-domed igloo, Banham reaffirms, “In the right circumstances, a truly sophisticated approach to the man/environment system may involve no complex mechanisms at all.” Here and with the residence in New Mexico, though, the architecture has not left its own very specific environment – Banham is not endorsing international igloo use, but is only saying that it works well in this particular setting. Banham, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Second Edition, 302. allow Banham to make exceptions to his usual doggedly enthusiastic support of the modern and the mechanical. As we will find in his analysis of Modernism, intentions were good, but these examples of early environmentalism often fell short on their delivery. They lacked the functionality and level of comfort that Banham considered necessary for a building’s successful use, and failed to critically engage contemporary culture. A result of paranoia, they fell flat because they dealt with a reductivist simplification of what they understood sustainability was rather than dissecting the collection of complex problems that came with it. Banham saw these extreme views as retreats backwards through the technological progress made, and as detrimental to the profession, one more step further away from the integration of architecture, technology, and environment.
Although recognizing that man can survive in almost all conditions on his own, Banham suggests that additional time and energy are necessary to move towards a critical, reflective, and productive existence:
The surviving archaeological evidence appears to suggest that mankind can exist, unassisted, on practically all those parts of the earth that are at present inhabited, except for the most arid and the most cold. The operative word is ‘exist’; a naked man armed only with hands, teeth, legs and native cunning appears to be a viable organism everywhere on land [...] But only just; in order to flourish, rather than merely survive, mankind needs more ease and leisure than a barebacked, single-handed struggle could permit.
Ibid,18. Grouped together in Banham’s “flourishing” ideal, the progression of thought and progression of art both require an excessive investment in energy that humans alone cannot supply. The environment, then, must be either harvested or harnessed to create energy where there is not enough. He divides the methods of approaching this dilemma into two different camps:
Man started with two basic ways of controlling environment: one by avoiding the issue and hiding under a rock, tree, tent or roof (this led ultimately to architecture as we know it) and the other by actually interfering with the local meteorology, usually by means of a campfire.
Reyner Banham, “A home is not a house,” Art in America 53 (April 1965): 75. Banham’s tone suggests a preference of the latter, but he understood architecture to be implicitly linked to technology, despite recent attempts to separate the two. As he writes in his introduction to The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, “The idea that architecture belongs in one place and technology in another is comparatively new in history, and its effect on architecture, which should be the most complete of the arts of mankind, has been crippling.” Banham, The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment, Second Edition, 9. Banham’s interest lies primarily in a marriage between the two that defies the conventions of both.
His encounters with projects like the Mayall telescope exemplify his understanding of architecture as a correlation between technological and cultural influences, and of his desire for an architecture that reflects the present condition of both of these things:
I cannot find it in me to apologize in any way for the solar telescope. It is a supreme product of the culture to which I belong – the culture of scientific enquiry, technological enterprise and engineering precision. I identify with it, not just because one of its designers is known to me, but because it belongs to my generation and people, the clever folks who came out of World War II determined to make over Western Culture according to a different rationality, however terrifying some of its by-products might be. If we seemed naïve and sounded glib, then look upon what we have wrought on Kitt Peak, which is neither slick nor silly. And it is not so much that it seems to lord it over other, allegedly more ‘primitive’ cultures, but that it really does put down some of the more meretricious or hermetic aspects of our own.
Banham, Scenes in America deserta, 188. The strong silhouette of this symbol of modernity against its desert backdrop relishes in the man’s resolve to conquer land and claim it. Yet, it is simultaneously a monument to the natural mysteries of the universe, over which we have no ultimate control despite the strides taken in this scientific field. What the general public today has lost is that sense of awe, and the promise of progress. Banham’s theory about the necessity for humanity’s self-expression in the built environment underscores what has been lost between his time and our own.
The question remains as to how society can actually get at this promised provision of progress. Reyner Banham’s notion of progress has to do primarily with comfort; environments are “well-tempered” if they are well suited for growth. Banham writes, “A suitable structure may keep a man cool in the summer, but no structure will ever make him warmer in sub-zero temperatures. A suitable structure may defend him from the effects of glaring sunlight, but there is no structure than can help him see after dark.” Banham, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Second Edition, 21. Although architecture alone might not be able to control the environment, paired with technology, it becomes a significant contributor in the optimization of an ideal condition from which we can “flourish.”
To return to the claim that Banham’s writing pursues the explanation of the relationships between “man, machine, and wilderness”: we easily accept Banham’s interest in the first two while dismissing the third. “Wilderness,” although it does not seem to play a major role in Banham’s articles, demands our attention in his books. We have already seen how control over the environment, through technology and architecture, is a major part of The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment. Fifteen years later, in what Whiteley categorizes as one of Banham’s two “compellingly ‘observational’ books,” Whiteley, 405. the environment possesses an “all pervading presence” that man cannot escape.Banham, Scenes in America deserta, 42. Banham’s Scenes in America Deserta is not only about the purity of that dry and desolate landscape, though, but of the infiltration and proliferation of man into it. As fascinating as he finds the desert, it is the persistence of the work of humanity to overcome the harsh environment that ultimately captures his attention: “One of the reasons why the Mojave is my prime desert is that there are more traces of man to be seen, traces more various in their history and their import.” Ibid, 199.
Banham’s “traces of man” have a magnetic quality about them that induces interrelativity and some degree of dialogue among the objects. Finding the empty cartridge cases from people who took aim at “road signs, water tanks, memorial plaques, wind pumps or old beer cans,” Banham speculates on the recurring phenomenon:
Even if it is no more than a symptom of mindless vandalism, this mania for shooting at human artifacts is not quite senseless; the identifiable humanness of their origins gives these objects a different status from everything else in view. The works of man inevitably attract the attention of mankind.
Ibid, 170. These objects allow for a subtle communication to occur between people separated by time. The slowness and precision of Banham’s experiences in the desert enables their immediate absorption into his already saturated postulations about humanity, technology, and ecology – this idea is really a reiteration of Banham’s understanding of the necessity for man to communicate in order to give meaning, and the dependency of meaning on material objects.
The culmination of Banham’s thoughts on the importance of “topographical and historical context” resulted in his celebrated Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971), 5. Contemporary circumstances were not the only contextual factors architecture had to respond to:
For Banham, the promise of scientific functionalism led inevitably to a wider program that did not simply embrace the demands of a client or translate the zeitgeist of the movement into form, but took into account the broadest set of urban geographical conditions.
Anthony Vidler, Histories of the Immediate Present (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2008), 141. The architecture of Los Angeles not only controls the immediate environment, but reacts to the broader condition of the urban ecology, and the existence of “polymorphous architectures” is an immediate reflection upon the diversity of ecologies within the city. Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, 5.
What Banham loves most about Los Angeles, though, is its capacity to change. The metropolis, as a collection of disparate parts, is only possible through its system of freeways. Movement of people and movement of ideas are necessary for the city to survive. The sprawling non-plan of Los Angeles further accentuates this essentiality of motion and modification, stretching the space of the city like taffy.
There is [a] strong sense of having room to maneuver. The tradition of mobility that brought people here, sustained by the frenzy of internal motivation ever since, and combined with the visible fact that most of the land is covered only thinly with very flimsy buildings, creates a feeling – illusory or not – that you can still produce results by bestirring yourself. Unlike older cities back east – New York, Boston, London, Paris – where warring pressure groups cannot get out of one another’s hair because they are pressed together in a sacred labyrinth of cultural monuments and real-estate values, Los Angeles has room to swing the proverbial cat, flatten a few card-houses in the process, and clear the ground for improvements that the conventional type of metropolis can no longer contemplate.
Ibid, 224. If the environment itself has the ability to transform itself, and if the architecture is explicitly linked to its many varieties of context, the architecture will change, too. Los Angeles, commonly thought to reject all principles of sustainability, should be praised at least in this regard. Constantly accepting new sets of cultural and ecological constraints, the city and its architecture have room for improvement and, with the right mind-set, might find solutions through the excess of elbowroom.
In both this scattered, high-speed metropolis and the austere American desert, Banham finds a broader understanding of environment. The relationship between architecture and ecology is not only reliant on the indispensability of man’s control over the latter, but is a result of an obligation of architecture to respond to its context, natural and artificial both. Man’s use of technology allows for control of, communication across, and assimilation within the environment. As “machine and wilderness” both change, architecture must also adapt, absolved from the nuanced fetishes of the past.
Modernism and Sustainability both engage Banham’s themes of man, technology, and nature, though the degree to which they do so is arguable. Outlining different notions of nature in different periods of architecture, Adrian Forty sentences Modernism to be the era that claimed “nature had nothing to offer,” Adrian Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture (London: Thames and Hudson, 2004), 236. finding that instead “it is in technology that architecture finds its model.” Ibid, 237. Before he begins to rattle off exceptions to this principle (Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, etc.), the apt reader must step back and consider that, even if it were a hard and fast rule, it primarily addresses the forms of buildings. Aesthetically, their use of industry’s new materials and typologies do suggest an aggressive break from nature, but this is deemed irrelevant by the detachment of these designs from the philosophies that had propelled them into existence. Modernists’ attempts to re-imagine an environment as one suitable for man’s pursuits of progress show a different kind of environmental awareness. Banham sees the Futurist architects’ intentions “of harmonizing environment and man, and of exploiting every benefit of science and technology,” Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1960), 327. and his writings on architecture throughout his career echo this sentiment. The sustainability discussion today insists on a similar goal, but we should be warned that it closely follows on the heels of Modernism, and is capable of committing the same fallacies. Both promise a unity or balance of man and nature, but ultimately sacrifice one for the other.
The “grand narratives” of sustainability today evoke those of modernity Mark Jarzombek, “Molecules, Money and Design: The Question of Sustainability’s Role in the Architectural Academe,” Thresholds 18 (1999): 38. – not confined to the architectural discipline, these two movements did and still do encroach upon our economy, our ethical systems, and our aesthetic judgment. The problem with “grand narratives,” Mark Jarzombek indicates, is that they make it easy to ignore how things will actually work out when romanticizing a more perfect world: “‘Saving’ the world is important and architecture has a role to play, but mapping the routes according to which this can be achieved is far from clear.” Mark Jarzombek, “Sustainability: Fuzzy Systems and Wicked Problems,” Log 4 (2006),12. This contemporary critique is reminiscent of Banham’s accusation of the misalignment between the “romantic dreams of prismatic crystalline splendors, cathedrals of light and colour [and the] snug and inexpressive towers of glass that form our current downtown scenes,” Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, 12. a hint towards his major argument in Theory and Design in the First Machine Age.
Closing the introduction of both editions of this book, Banham writes, “The cultural revolution that took place around 1912 has been superseded, but it has not been reversed.” Ibid. We are just as obsessed with our own modernity today, in denial of the fact that we could some day be proven wrong. We judge the past by standards of today, but refuse to believe the next generation will do the same to us. We remain consumed by our apparent power through innovation, emotionally detached from the knowledge we uncover. David Orr polemically declares, “Modern science has fundamentally misconceived the world by fragmenting reality, separating observer from observed, portraying the world as a mechanism, and dismissing nonobjective factors, all in the service of the domination of nature.” David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World (Albany: State University of New York, 1992), 12. But he is wrong: we are doing all of these things now and labeling them “Sustainable,” claiming scientific progress will save the planet it destroys. The tagline might have been amended from Modern to Green, but things have not changed as much as we claim they have.
A disjunction between the technical and intellectual was incomprehensible to Banham, who judged buildings on both fronts simultaneously. Yet Jarzombek warns:
[T]here will be a fundamental revision of the intellectual framework of architectural speculation. The new ‘interdisciplinary’ of architecture-with-science will create, for example, an anti-interdisciplinary polarization of architectural discourse along the antinomic lines of artistic freedom versus technological complicity.
Jarzombek, “Molecules, Money and Design: The Question of Sustainability’s Role in the Architectural Academe,” 38. Regardless of appropriateness and performance, if sustainable architecture fails to engage us intellectually, the favorability of its contextual and functional attributes is negated by the architecture’s incompetence in this regard. For Banham, architecture’s role “as a service to human socialites, can only be defined as the provision of fit environments for human activities.” Banham, “1960 - Stocktaking,” 49. The “social” element distinguishes architecture as an active form of communication itself and as a vehicle of interaction. James Wines writes, “Obviously if humanity expires from global warming, over-population, pollution, starvation, and a lack of water, it will matter very little whether civil rights have been achieved, the Middle East is at peace, an Aids vaccine exists, or the national debts have been paid.” James Wines, Green Architecture (New York: Taschen, 2000), 11. This is only obvious if you consider sustaining the human species equivalent to sustaining humanity. Wines freely exchanges the two, but his statement, and many others’ on the topic, marginalizes the importance of “man” in the equation.
Banham may be emblematic of the fact that “technical optimism [is still] deeply embedded into the modern psyche,” Orr, 4. but he recognizes both the need to change, and how, ironically, resistance to change brought about the death of Modernism. The movement’s demise unfolds when it fails to react to a major change in its chosen context:
As soon as performance made it necessary to pack the components of a vehicle into a compact streamlined shell, the visual link between the International Style and technology was broken [...] Though there was no particular reason why architecture should take note of these developments in another field or necessarily transform itself in step with vehicle technology, one might have expected on art that appeared so emotionally entangled with technology to show some signs of this upheaval.
Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, 328. An augmented scope of Modernism’s fallacy reveals discord between theory and design. There existed for Reyner Banham an almost Ruskinian optimism for truth in architecture. In Banham’s case, though, truth was not found in materials, but how a building could reflect both its function and the theory behind its conception. The title of his first book, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, asserts his concern with theory over design. As a historian, and as a Modernism himself, Banham could not and would not deny that modernism had succeeded in its impact on concurrent and proceeding architectural movements – the book does not reject the theories of modernism at all, but it does condemn the designs resulting from those theories. He saw that the actual buildings fell short of what modern architecture was claiming to be and insisted the architects of the period had failed to take advantage of the technology available.
[I]ts inadequacies were seen to lie not in the extent to which Functionalism as a theory had pushed architecture in the direction of mindless mechanization, but in the extent to which Functionalism, as practiced, had failed to go anywhere near as far as the developing technology could carry it, and thus give architecture, too, the power to deliver the promises of the Machine Age.
Ibid., 11. Functionalist architecture that had promised progress through use of technology and failed to be truly technological. Gently put by Vincent Michael, “Banham may have found the logical fault in modernism, but like finding fault in the use of the atomic bomb, the reality of the event and its effect on history is in no way reduced or diminished by its rational moral weakness.” Vincent Michael, “Reyner Banham: Signs and Designs in the Time without Style,” Design Issues 18, no. 2 (2002): 76. Modernism had failed only in comparison to what it could have been. Modernism had failed to live up to its potential.
We seek out opportunities to create and to build, compelled to give meaning to our lives and addicted to the self-satisfaction that comes with success. In the process, we actively optimize our surroundings to further guarantee society’s progress. However, as we modify our environment to the point of complete extinction of species, annihilation of entire ecosystems, and distortion of natural equilibrium as a whole, reservations arise regarding the parameters of what we need to change about the natural world to retain this quality of humanity and of what we are responsible for returning back to nature. As David Orr says, “We are caught between the drive for Promethean immortality, which takes us to extinction, and what appears to be a meaningless survival in the recognition that we are only a part of a large web of life.” Orr, 17. Sustainability insists we reduce our impact on the planet by reducing production of artifice, and so we are forced to sacrifice what makes us human.
Reyner Banham believed that the primary motivation for our continued existence was the creation of meaning through the creation of artifice. His writing was not concerned with sustaining the physical species of humans, but sustaining the humanity of humans. The contemporary obsession with sustainability has replaced a goal of progress with one of survival. Banham once saw architecture as an active engagement of the critical relationship between man, nature, and technology, but our analysis of architecture today has cast aside this responsibility, reduced to points of performance on a chart. Rather than completely negating sustainability as a priority, Banham’s values suggest we seek to resolve sustainability alongside other issues, so that architecture should be both responsive to and respectful of its environment, design reflective of theories that guide its creation and use. And this was, according to Banham, man’s most noble calling: the expression of theory through design.
If Banham were alive today, he would insist that for sustainable architecture to be successful, its design would have to be emphatic of the theories about humanity, technology, and environment that guide its creation and use. His “technical optimism” could be one way we reunite the scientific precision with theoretical discourse in sustainable design. Christopher Hight, through study of Banham’s The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment, concludes:
The proposition that technical opportunities and problems can be the theoretical basis of architecture remains important, and potentially more productive and challenging to our conventions than critical theoretical, phenomenological, or Deconstructionist-derived approaches of semiotics and representation that continue to dominate the discourse.
Christopher Hight, “Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline: Parables of Entropy and Homeostasis from the Second Machine Age to the Information Age,” in Space Reader: Heterogeneous Space in Architecture, edited by Michael Hensel, Christopher Hight, and Achim Menges (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2009), 171. Mark Jarzombek writes:
There is great value in the architectural imagination, even though it is often lost or dismissed by the ethicists or engineers. The difficulty hinges on the hierarchy of the words sustainable and design [...] we continue to need what we have always needed: designs that challenge our way of thinking and perceiving on a range of social and environmental issues.
Jarzombek, “Sustainability: Fuzzy Systems and Wicked Problems,” 12. Banham, too, valued the entirety of that “range of social and environmental issues,” never fixed entirely on a single concern. In order to come to terms with the complexities of our world, we need an architecture that engages the multidimensionality our existence.
Reyner Banham is a disco-technophile, a critical historian of architecture with an obsession with the interrelativity of man, technology, and the environment. Architecture was to be built not just of the time, but of the place, fundamentally rooted in its geographic, historical, and cultural context. Success, in Banham’s eyes, was architecture that both controlled and responded to its environment. He understood the vocation of man to be creation of meaning through the creation of symbolic material objects, and believed in architecture’s obligation to engage us intellectually and physically, to express its theory and function through its design. Although much of his prolific writing corresponds to topics of today’s sustainability crisis, Banham does not seek out immediate solutions to the problems we now more fully understand as the result of unsustainable practices. His attention is too directly focused on the immediate past and the immediate future, his faith too stubbornly rooted in technological progress to allow himself to believe that the end was near. At one of his lectures given at the International Design Conference in Aspen, Banham asked his audience with unwavering confidence in the answer:
What’s so good about a world where the designers have salved their consciences by taking everything so seriously that poetry falls flat, the birds are all grounded, and nobody dances? One of humanity’s main motives for surviving the bomb, the baby boom, and the final solidification of the freeway system into a coast-to-coast parking lot will be to get the birds and the poets back into orbit, revive the watusi and the pavane, and clip on the optional equipment generally.
Reyner Banham, The Aspen papers; twenty years of the design theory from the International Design Conference in Aspen (New York: Praeger, 1974), 158. One of humanity’s main motives for surviving the crisis of modernity is architecture, a way to relate to our environment and to each other. Our buildings of the future will dance, if only as shadows on the face of a deserted earth, in memory of our failed attempt to overcome the naturally imposed order of a chaotic universe.
Reyner Banham remains inconclusive.
The sight of the flame, which makes the animals flee, attracts man. People gather together around a common hearth, have feasts, dance there; the sweet ties of habit imperceptible bring together man and his fellows, and on this rustic hearth burns the sacred fire that carries to the depths of their hearts the first sentiment of humanity. [...] The barbarians who live off their herds above all need common watering places, and the history of the most ancient times teaches us that it is indeed there that their treaties as well as their quarrels began.
Rousseau, in “Discourse on the Sciences and Arts.” Light might be best understood in relation to social organization through what we will call the “campfire effect.” Controlled light, even in this most primitive form, serves to physically bring people together: an isolated spark in a comparatively dark atmosphere, the archaic technology transforms the open flame, a one-dimensional point in infinite space, into a distant location with very definite spatial boundaries.
Light, immaterial though it might be, is then what allows us to perceive a place, its qualities, but it is what allows us to find one another in the darkness.
Light is another layer of understanding we attach to the environments that we encounter, and simultaneously allows for human interaction and communication. Light, here and everywhere in our world, is a space-making and place-making quality that offers definition and understanding.
As modern society encourages us to question everything, to deteriorate our (and any) historical and contemporary understanding of culture, to redefine and undefine what is meant when we say “art,” we find ourselves now floating freely in a tempestuous sea of words detached of all meaning, completely removed from any sense of communication we once had, dissipating into a cacophony of noise.
Art is a tangible object that allows us to convey the intangibilities of life. Discussion and reflection (of art, and so, of these intangibilities) is what defines humanity; it allows a human being to move beyond merely “existing” to “flourish.”
What we need today is not to lock up our art, and yet neither should we fling open the doors and encourage its destruction.
And so, this is an architecture to incubate the discourse of art, an annex to foster dialogue among a disjointed, globalized community. It isn’t so much about the art, but, rather, about the incubation of the discourse of art.
It is a light museum, built to provide a seat for the Muses, perhaps around a campfire.
I graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a B.Arch in 2013. Because I have no legal title yet, I like to call myself an Illegal Architect (on days I’m feeling rebellious) or a Narrative Designer (a title stolen from the world of video game design). I’m always looking for new and challenging projects to tackle. For more info, you can take a look at my CV or download a small sample of architectural work. The best way to contact me is via email.
Unless otherwise noted, work on this site was initiated and executed independently. Everything here is licensed under the CC’s VY-NC-SA, by me, Talia Perry, 2008-2014.
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