Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays/Seasons Greetings


Happy Holidays to all .... thanks for making 2009 a great year, and here's to an even better 2010!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Books And Their Architects

Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books (Yale University Press, 2009). Edited by Jo Steffens, with an introductory essay by Walter Benjamin.

A quick note to encourage everyone out there to pick up a copy of Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books. This handsome book features ten architects accompanied by pictures from their personal libraries. Each respondent also provides a list of their 10 favorite books. The book is based on an exhibit held at Urban Center Books.



As an aside, I'm trying to imagine how to use this book in the future. In writing the histories of these architects (or of the architecture profession in the early 21st century), what value would we assign to libraries and personal collections? This all stems from a nighttime discussion with colleagues regarding the value of personal ephemera, biographies, and autobiographies in understanding architectural objects. What, for example, would we make of the fact that several of the architects featured in Unpacking My Library listed Gravity's Rainbow as one of their 10 favorite books? Does owning this book become an indicator of good or smart design, or just impeccable taste?

What do you think?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Sphinx in Utah's Desert



U.S. Army tank attacking cave formations on Okinawa, 1945 (Source)

By the late Spring of 1945
, the American war effort was fully focused on defeating the Japanese armed forces. American warships had all but decimated the Imperial Japanese Navy and blunted further attacks south into Australia and New Zealand. And though Japanese forces were resorting to more or less desperate means to combat the Allied offensive, a protracted island hopping campaign allowed the U.S. Army and Marines to gain valuable footholds at Iwo Jima and Okinawa by June. These were more than tactical victories, however. In addition to smaller islands such as Guam and Tinian and Saipan in the Marianas, the U.S. Army Air Force now had its first group of forward airbases for its sustained aerial attack against Japanese cities. The first had already occurred on March 9, 1945—a massive 300-plane raid against Tokyo that left 16 square miles of dense urban fabric in cinders and killed 80,000. And since then, U.S. Army Air Force operations (under the command of Generals Curtis E. LeMay and to a lesser extent, General Lauris Norstad) had been centered on the systematic razing of targets on the Japanese homeland.

Despite these successes, and even up until the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the issue of an invasion of the Japanese mainland had always been on the table. General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz were anticipating that the invasion of Kyushu—dubbed Operation OLYMPIC—would commence by November 1, 1945. And questions always remained: how long would it take for the invasion to succeed, and with how many casualties? One reason for such worries was that an attack on Kyushu was, for lack of a better word, obvious. Indeed, by the Summer of 1945, Japanese forces were already massing on the rocky island—13 divisions (about 450,000 servicemen) and 10,000 aircraft were bring assembled to repel a potential Allied invasion. As important is the fact that Kyushu provided a particularly difficult terrain—thick forests, volcanic outcroppings, and steep mountainsides would only exacerbate the difficulties of an assault like OLYMPIC. The topography of this anticipated battle may have looked, felt, and smelled something like those found on Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and yet planners calculated that the November invasion could be several orders of magnitude costlier than the bloodiest campaigns in the European theatre.

The desire to pursue a fast, decisive end to the war played out in military and civil channels. Whereas military planners like Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall claimed that "Flying fortresses will be dispatched immediately to set the paper cities of Japan on fire"[1], an editorial in the March 11,1945 issue of the Chicago Tribune declared that "YOU CAN COOK THEM BETTER WITH GAS." The reference, of course, is to the use of chemical weapons to defeat the Japanese army. The editorial ends with a prophetic statement about the use of chemical weapons:

Gas lends itself to use in such special situations as confront our forces reducing a heavily defended and strongly fortified island of extremely broken terrain and relatively small dimensions. It is to be doubted that it could be employed in general offensives in open country, for it would hamper the user as much as the enemy. Thus the lesson of gas is special, not general, and tactical, not humanitarian. The charge that it is inhumane is both false and irrelevant. With the weapons now being used, almost none of the Japanese on Iwo [Jima] will survive the attack. The use of gas might save the lives of many hundreds of Americans and of some of the Japanese as well.

The reference to the battle then being fought at Iwo Jima is also poignant for a very specific reason. At one point, the editorial declares that "Jap dugout defenses of the type found on Iwo Jima would present an ideal testing ground to determine whether we could render the enemy impotent and materially reduce our own casualties. New weapons, such as the rocket, the aerial bomb, and the 4.2 inch mortar, all of which could launch gas with extreme accuracy against a holed up enemy, provide the means." As it would out, the Army would begin testing the effects of poisoned gases and other chemical agents in case of an invasion of Japan—on American soil.

In May 1945, General Marshall authorized Project SPHINX with the goal of determining "The best material, either available or under development, for reducing Japanese caves and underground fortifications; and ... [t]he best means of employment of that material."[2] Spearheaded by the Army General Staff, the Technical Services of the United States Army, and the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS), the goal of Project SPHINX was, in essence, to test the efficacy of chemical weapons against the network of caves, pillbox bunkers, and underground facilities that might be encountered on an attack on Kyushu. The Army was primarily interested in assessing a lethal portfolio of toxic agents such as Phosgene, Cyanogen Chloride, Hydrogen Cyanide, and Sulfur Mustard, as well as smoke munitions and napalm-based weapons. For this testing, however, the Army would use the equipment and facilities at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah as a stand-in for the rocky coast of Japan.

Dugway's personnel were no strangers to the shadowy business of simulation. During the Second World War, Dugway was one of the Army's premiere locations for the testing of chemical and biological ordnance. In 1943, "Typical German and Japanese Structures" designed by architects Erich Mendelsohn, Konrad Wachsmann, and Antonin Raymond were erected at Dugway and were bombed, destroyed, and rebuilt over and over to test the Army's new M-69 napalm incendiary bomb. The three architects provided the CWS with vital information about construction techniques used to build urban housing in Germany and Japan. Mendelsohn's and Wachsmann's research led to the design and construction of a 1:1 scale model building (presumably dubbed "German Village" because it "represented" various construction and framing techniques in Germany). Likewise, Raymond's work resulted in the building of a "Japanese Village." Here, building became part of a testing program—a controlled set of conditions in which German and Japanese architecture was rendered susceptible to firebombing.

Project SPHINX relied on a different kind of spatial knowledge for its own simulation. If the work on the model German and Japanese villages demanded the mobilization of architectural expertise for weapons testing, then SPHINX required a more nuanced understanding of landscape and geology in order to "simulate" the island of Kyushu under battle conditions. Here, then, the use of the word "Typical" becomes important. The Chemical Warfare Service labeled the German and Japanese structures as "Typical" because they represented a statistical majority of German and Japanese building types. Similarly, for SPHINX, the challenge was to recreate a network of underground fortifications as might be found on the rocky coast of the Japanese Home Islands. For this, the Army and CWS would build, in essence, models of bunkers, and underground facilities using preexisting mineshafts, tunnels, and caves already located in at Dugway Proving Ground.

Four areas were chosen for this testing regime: Camels Back Cave No. 2, a "natural cave located near the crest of a limestone ridge"; the Great Western Mine, a tunnel located in the Dugway mountains measuring 175 feet in length; the Yellow Jacket Mine Area, a network of mine shafts and tunnels also located in the Dugway mountains; and the "River Bed Target Area", a large promontory jutting into an arid river bed. For each area, Army engineers built various kinds of screens and vanes designed to measure the dispersal of chemical agents inside the tunnels. Goats and rabbits (some of whom were outfitted with makeshift gas masks) were placed inside the caves in order to measure the results of the gas and flame attacks. The Army also used different means for dispersing the agents: chemical mortar and artillery shells, rockets, bombs, airplane-mounted spray tanks, and "droppable light case tanks" (the type eventually used for napalm attacks during the Vietnam War).



Diagrams of Camels Back Cave No.2 for Project SPHINX

The sites required differing amounts of modification. For example, CWS technicians only had to drill two side tunnels into Camels Back Cave and add several wooden doors to approximate a Japanese cave system. Gas curtains—a type of device that presumably impeded the spread of gas and toxic agents—were added to the Great Western Mine and Yellow Jacket Mine Area in order to simulate potential anti-gas measures. For the River Bed Target Area, however, Army engineers built a model Japanese underground fortification system, complete with turrets, pillboxes, and gunports. Yet there are no architectural drawings, for example, of structures built at the River Bed Target Area.


Photographs of elements from "typical" Japanese underground fortifications

Maps and photographs provide evidence that great care went into building a vast system of reinforced concrete structures. Gunports thus appear as nodes in a subterranean network that spreads along the river bed area. And in one instance, a section drawing of the River Bed Target Area shows how the built system snaked up and through the rocky massifs at Dugway. The report on Project SPHINX does not indicate what kinds of systems were used as inspiration—nothing gives any indication that these systems were modeled on Japanese precedent. But in an eerie echo of the previous program for testing napalm munitions on German and Japanese architecture, several of the photographs in the report indicate that all the built materials—escape hatches, doors, ports—were all "typical". It is probable that given the urgency with which Project SPHINX was initiated, and the planning required for OLYMPIC, that the Army was relying on past experiences on Guadacanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa to assess what, indeed, were typical Japanese fortifications. And here, "typical" could be equated with being good enough for testing purposes.




Top and Middle: diagrams of gas munition testing at Camels Back Cave; Bottom: testing map of River Bed Testing Area

Remarkably, Project SPHINX relied on a more abstracted visual method to communicate test results. The final report thus included a set of plans and sections of the various caves and tunnels at Camels Back Cave, Great Western Mine, and the Yellow Jacket Mines. At first, these seem like inversions of figure ground diagrams in the sense that they privilege the existence of geological solids that define those voids that eventually form caves and tunnels. Yet drafters depicted the interior of the Dugway mountains as fields of parallel, diagonal lines—a strategy that no doubt differentiates this kind of representation from the drawing of pochés. This is not a display of architectural knowledge, but is rather a decided attempt to show moments of geological and spatial complexity. It is appropriate, then, that the drafters labeled these as "diagrams". These are diagrams in the Deleuzeian sense of the term in that they do indeed show "intersecting" forces. Here, however, it is more appropriate to talk of intersecting regimes at work in the Yellow Jacket Mine system. On the one hand, there is a geologic regime, depicted by the crosshatched lines in the "detailed diagrams and sketches". Other diagrams, such as those showing the exact position of goats that perished inside the Camels Back Cave system, are evidence of results of a testing regime similar to the one used for the testing of napalm on German and Japanese architecture. And overall, there is the system of visual representation itself, an example of what Jacques Ranciere calls an "aesthetic regime." Far more than a way of representing a literal and figurative terrain to communicate these tests results to weapons technicians and military planners, these maps, diagrams, and photographs also show how Project SPHINX relied on visual communication as a requirement for the application of these deadly technologies. Thus the most detailed series of diagrams and maps—those of the Yellow Jacket Mine and River Bed areas—both show natural conditions such as elevation and the direction of prevalent winds: information necessary for the proper deployment of gas weapons.




Diagrams of Yellow Jacket cave system

In short, the Project SPHINX testing revealed that napalm and smoke munitions would not be able to inflict substantial casualties when used against Japanese cave fortifications. The determining factor was accuracy. In other words, a high degree of precision would be needed to ensure that bombs and shells hit the openings of cave fortifications, and even this would not guarantee that the interiors of the caves be ignited. Gas and toxic agents, however, proved a different story. With regard to the testing of Phosgene, Cyanogen Chloride, and Hydrogen Cyanide, the report on Project SPHINX stated:

The dosages (concentration x time) needed to produce death are 5,000, 11,000 and 5,000 mg. min./m3 for [each gas] respectively. Personnel wearing military gas masks are adequately protected against these gases unless dosages sufficient to penetrate the gas mask container are obtained. Of the above three agents, [Cyanogen Chloride] penetrates the Japanese gas mask canister most efficiently; between 200,000 and 400,00- mg. min./m3 is required. Since the Japanese soldier was known to be equipped with a gas mask, the object ... was to achieve canister-penetrating dosages inside the caves.

With Hydrogen Cyanide gas proving to be too unstable and too flammable for tactical use, the CWS had more success with Mustard Gas. In almost all tests, goats died after exposure to the gas, in some instances hours after the test areas were attached. The CWS report noted that Mustard Gas ("H"), when dispersed through "bombs, mortar or artillery shell",

evaporates over a period of time to form a lingering, H-vapor cloud. The rate of evaporation depends upon the ground surface temperature, the wind speed, the vertical temperature gradient, and the site of the mustard droplets. Personnel exposed to mustard vapor absorb the agent into their skin and become casualties. Consequently, gas masks only protect the face and respiratory organs, and protective clothing is required to protect the entire body. It is known that the Japanese soldier does not have adequate protective clothing, and is therefore vulnerable to mustard-vapor attack.

With this observation in mind, the CWS concluded that Mustard Gas was especially useful in subduing Japanese soldiers in areas "containing a large number of caves or a complex underground fortification ... whether or not the location of the openings are known." For this reason, the CWS concluded that Mustard Gas was the toxin to use for an attack like that planned for OLYMPIC.

The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk observes that "The 20th century dawned in a spectacular revelation on April 22, 1915, when a specially formed German 'gas regiment' launched the first, large-scale operation against French-Canadian troops in the northern Ypres Salient using chlorine gas as their means of combat."[3]  Gas combat is therefore coextensive with modernity; or put another way, modernity coincided with the development of "Atmoterrorism"—the decided targeting of environments for tactical and strategic means. Such warfare has a heavy design component, and Sloterdijk reminds us how "With the phenomenon of gas warfare, the fact of the living organism's immersion in a breathable milieu arrives at the level of formal representation, bringing the climactic and atmospheric conditions pertaining to human life to a new level of explication."[4]  It may take something larger than a conceptual link to consider this statement as one that equates gas warfare with a design problem—but in looking at the drawings, sketches, and photographs that document Project SPHINX's achievements, we cannot help but see their explanatory nature as a visual response to an intractable problem. "To invade Japan, we must use gas. To use gas, we must make diagrams", so the logic would go. Beyond the targeting of life-supporting air, gas warfare can also be thought of as a kind of atmosphere design, the creation of envelopes of air processed and manufactured to kill. Looked in this way, then, the manufacture of gas not only includes the Ypres Salient and the manufacturing of Zyklon B, but also the disasters at Bhopal as well as the aerial warfare depicted in H.G. Wells's The War in the Air (1908).  In that book, it is not so much the use of incendiary bombs, but the manufacturing of fleets of giant gas-filled airship that leads an officer aboard a German airship to declare, "The war comes through the air, bombs drop in the night. Quiet people go out in the morning, and see air-fleets passing overhead—dripping death—dripping death!"[5]


Underneath Tokyo: March 20, 1995 (Source)

The trajectory of atmospheric events that includes, among other things, Slotedijk's invocation of the Ypres Salient, negligence at Bhopal, atrocities at Auschwitz, and Project SPHINX, finds another point of confluence, also with a specific day and time. On Monday, March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult performed a coordinated gas attack on the Tokyo subway. The weapon of choice here was sarin, a deadly nerve toxin so powerful that a pinhead-sized drop could be enough to kill an adult male. On that March morning, Aum Shinrikyo members Ikuo Hayashi, Kenichi Hirose, Toru Toyoda, Masato Yokoyama, and Yasuo Hayashi all dropped newspaper-bundles each containing a bag filled with liquid sarin. According to their plan, they punctured the bags with sharpened tips of umbrellas and promptly left. Although some of the perpetrators were affected by the sarin release, the attack killed seven and injured 500.

It may be too much to say that the Subway Sarin Incident was a direct result of the types of investigations spearheaded by the CWS and Project SPHINX in 1945. Sarin had already been used in the Iran-Iraq War, and had allegedly been used during the Pinochet regime. It certainly bears mentioning that Sarin Subway Incident was the deadliest attack on Japanese soil since the Second World War, so in a certain sense it does show how some of Project SPHINX 's objectives came to fruition almost 40 years later. The last word on this belongs to the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In 2000, an English translation of Murakami's Underground (originally published in 1997-98 as Andāguraundo) appeared, exposing to English-speaking audiences some first-hand accounts of that day in March. The book remains a powerful document, a testament to the heinous nature of gas warfare. And yet Murakami's interviews with victim and perpetrator alike demonstrate how the principles behind the intended attack on Kyushu and the Subway Sarin Incident are basically the same. The unifying link is air. Michiaki Tamada, a subway conductor who survived the attacks, would put it best when he told Murakami about the atmosphere on the morning of March 20, 1945: "[S]omething felt wrong inside the train. After the second or third car I couldn't help thinking, "Something's different." It wasn't so much a smell; it was just a hunch: "Something's weird here." Everyone sweats, so the odor of their bodies, the smell of their clothes leave an indelible mark. Ride the trains every day and you know what's regular air, and you pick up on anything that's not quite the same."[6]

________________
Notes
[1] Quoted in Michael Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) p. 109.
[2] Dugway Proving Ground Memorandum Report No. 26, Project SPHINX: Attack Against Cave-Type Fortifications (25 October 1945), n.p. All information in the post related to Project SPHINX can be found in this document.
[3] Peter Sloterdijk, Terror From The Air, Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran, trans. (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), pp. 9-10.
[4] Ibid., p. 23 (Italics added).
[5] H.G. Wells, The War in the Air (London: George Bell and Sons, 1908), p. 240 (italics added).
[6] Haruki Murakami, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel, trans. (New York: Vintage, 200), p. 156.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Gomorrah

A brutal (neo?)brutalism, still from Gomorrah (dir. Matteo Garrone, 2008)

Admittedly, I'm a little late to the architecture here .... but just a brief post to encourage you to rent a copy of Matteo Garrone's excellent Gomorrah (Gomorra) (2008). The film is a dramatization of Roberto Saviano's book of the same name,
a best-selling (and also fictionalized) account of the Camorra, a criminal syndicate based out of Naples. The movie is a gripping ensemble piece depicting how the Camorra's operations affect the lives of people living in Scampìa—a part of the city infamous for its drug wars and frequent murders. It may be easy to lump Gomorrah with other films that want to implicate the built environment in societal woes. And it is in this sense that Gomorrah finds resonance in films such as in Mathieu Kassovitz' La Haine (1995) or Fernando Meireilles' and Kátia Lund's Cidade de Deus (2002). All these films use visual evidence of urban decay to stand in for greater observations about city life—as architecture crumbles, so does society. It is also easy to identify outer-ring suburbs—such as the Parisian banlieues depicted by Kassovitz and Garrone's Scampian vistas—as sites where housing just, for lack of a better term, went wrong. (And here, it goes without saying, but Le Corbusier becomes easy target, as proved by Theodore Dalrymple's laughable and entertaining screed against Corb's "ahumanity".) Some who have already written about how Garrone's depictions of Scampìa fall short of identifying the building where much of Gomorrah's action takes place, Franz di Salvo's Vele di Scampia (1962-75), as a Corbusian-inflected misstep (see, for example, this post). In fact, after watching Gomorrah, we come to realize how the Vele di Scampia is worse. Much worse. For starters, di Salvo's housing project eventually became the largest open-air drug market in the world. No high modernist structure can lay claim to this distinction.





Top: view of the Vele di Scampia, from Gomorrah (2008); Bottom: view of interior circulation (Source)


Briefly, the architecture rings somehow familiar—a ferroconcete neo-Brutalist fantasy in shambles. The Vele di Scampia consists of five units, each split into two ziggurat-like forms. An arterial walkway splits each unit in half, with stairs going off at near 30º angles to apartment units above and below. The result is a series of "X"-like sections that aspired to street-like circulation in each unit. Although a similar penchant for elevated streets can be found in Alison and Peter Smithson's Robin Hood Gardens council estate, in section, the Vele di Scampia reads more as a descendant of Paul Rudolph's scheme for the Lower Manhattan Expressway (1967-72).


Alternative modes of circulation, from Gomorrah (2008) (Source)

Much of the settings in Gomorrah feature the Vele di Scampia's state of disrepair. The reinforced concrete buildings now appear more like bunkers than unified housing scheme, with broken and soggy foundations, graffiti; and in some instances, whole units have been knocked out to show the building's skeletal frames. If the building is a barometer of sorts for Gomorrah, then judging from what Garrone frames carefully in each scheme, the Vele di Scampia is a doomed world of sorts. A doomed world in a city already known for its cave systems and its undergrounds, literal and figurative.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Long Durations

Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) Slowly, Surely Peeling Potatoes, from Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (dir. Chantal Akerman, 1975) (Source)

"Here you will learn an extremely important truth", writes Charles Fourier in his delirious Theory of the Four Movements (Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales) (1808). "[T]he ages of happiness last seven times longer than the ages of unhappiness, like the one we have been living in for several thousand years … For 70,000 years, therefore, you will share in the happiness which is in store for the globe; so you should take an interest in this outline of the future revolutions which your planet will undergo." Fourier's book, as much a criticism of current scientific thought as an alternate (and audacious) history of the planet, is a description of a true longue durée. Reading Theory of the Four Movements therefore requires a double commitment: in addition to buying in to Fourier's own quasi-historicisms, there is also the physical act of reading through the lengthy text. There is the time depicted in the book, and then there is the time required to read it.

I use the word "physical" here quite literally. Reading is not, for the most part, the most physically demanding of activities. No strenuous muscle work is required. The worst injury one can get is, perhaps, eye strain. Recall the opening moments of Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (1981), when the author asks the reader to "Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat." All that is required is the reader's commitment, and such commitment can take an unspecified amount of time. Yet there are some instances when such commitments can be physically exacting for both audience and performer.

With a running time of 201 minutes, Chantal Akerman's 1975 film, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is not any longer than some of the more famous Cinemascope epics. For her film, Akerman details three days in the life of the titular character (played by Delphine Seyrig) with careful and painstaking detail thorugh the use of long takes. The camera neither tilts nor pans, and in some instances, only captures part of the action. Each day, we watch as Jeanne boils potatoes, makes up her bed, kneads meatloaf, ignites a furnace, reads the newspaper, makes coffee, and (you knew about this already) having sex with paying clients. Combined with sparse dialogue and an almost complete lack of sound, Akerman infuses Jeanne Dielman with a figurative and literal flatness. For the most part, a muted color palette complements the lack of deep focus shots, and yet the overall effect is much like that of a stationary security camera, a static sentinel recording events as they occur in real time.

Yet as the movie progresses, Akerman only alludes to the repetition of daily routines. Only some of these are depicted in all three days, and those that are revealed later (such as Jeanne going into town to replace a button for a sportscoat) provide evidence of only the slowest accretion of time. The effect is to put the viewer in some amount of physical discomfort. As you watch Jeanne from the camera eye's vantage point, you start noticing small details such as the color of the grout in the kitchen title, the curves of a bedroom bureau, and even a porcelain dog statue in the dining room. The point is that the viewer has time—and lots of it—to notice these details. Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles becomes an exercise in watching, an exercise that has to play out in a rough analogue to "real time" in order to achieve its maximum effect.

Stage Setup for Performance of Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76) (Source)

If Jeanne Dielman demands much from the viewer, Steve Reich's well-known Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76) can be seen as a work that demands much from its performers. The piece, which lasts about an hour when played live, is composed of 11 "pulses", each a small piece of music based around a single chord. Different instruments phase in and out of the piece. In one moment, high-pitched female voices accentuate the down beat. In another, bass clarinets enter with a low swell—a reedy doppler shift of sorts. The sonic complexity of Reich's piece has a temporal effect, as music critic Tim Page noted in Parallel Play (2009), his account of his struggle with Asperger's Syndrome. Page cites his review of Reich's Music for 18 Musicians as an important event foreshadowing his eventual diagnosis. Here, he remarks on the piece's temporal flexibility:
Minerva-like, the music springs to life fully formed—from dead silence to fever pitch. There is a strong feeling of ritual, a sense that on some subliminal plane the music has always been playing and that it will continue playing forever … Imagine concentrating on a challenging modern painting that becomes just a little different every time you shift your attention from one detail to another. Or trying to impose a frame on a running river—making a finite, enclosed work of art yet leaving its kinetic quality unsullied, leaving it flowing freely on all sides. It has been done. Steve Reich has framed the river (Italics added).
The above quote does bring to light some similarities between Akerman's and Reich's respective works (both which, coincidentally, were completed around the same time). Both capitalize on extended temporal horizons, much in the same way as Fourier's Theory of the Four Movements. Whereas Jeanne Dielman shows slight variations in daily routines, one gets the uneasy sense that Jeanne's routines have been occurring in perpetuity. You have to listen carefully for a similar sense of perpetuity in Music for 18 Musicians. Peel away the layers of voices, metallophones, and clarinets, and there you will listen to the constant, relentless poundings of marimbas and xylophones. Imagine how tired these performers must be. They have been playing for the past 56 minutes, but they could be playing on forever.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"Ideological Mildew"


Against ideological mildew, from Z (dir. Costa Gavras, 1969) (Source)

In the opening moments of his political ciné-roman, Z (1969), director Costa Gavras shows us a room filled with uniformed government officials. All are listening to a lecture concerning the proper maintenance of crops. The speaker, an elderly, knowledgeable-looking fellow, shows an image of a blighted olive leaf—a portent if ever there was one, an indication that things are not what they seem. This lecturer then steps aside to introduce a stern, mustachioed General (Pierre Dux) who quickly elaborates on the political significance of the mildew. He addresses his enraptured, epauleted audience:


An ideological illness is like mildew and requires preventative measures. Like mildew, it is due to septic germs and various parasitic agents. So the treatment of men with appropriate solutions is indispensable ... Air-dropped leaflets are telling our peasants of a new kind of ideological mildew beginning to ravage our land ... we must preserve the healthy elements of our society and heal those that are ill ... we must fight all diseases of both the vine as well as of Society.

The significance of this statement lies not so much in its obvious metaphor, but in its reference to mass communication as a way to fight societal ills and other threats to the establishment. Aircraft spread propaganda leaflets in the same way as herbicides or defoliants. Communication, as a mean of societal control, must therefore have a hygienic function.





Ernest Hèbrard and Hendrik Christian Andersen, World City of Communications, 1913-14 (Source)

Strangely, such ideas recall an early collaboration by French architect Ernest Hébrard (1866-1933) and American sculptor Hendrik Christian Andersen (1872-1940) called the "World City of Communications" (1914). The French art critic Jean-Paul Alaux gave a general description of the project in a March 1914 issue of the American Institute of Architects Journal:


The city is divided into three distinct groups: First, the scientific group, composed of the palaces of the sociological sciences, of medicine, of agriculture, of pure sciences, with, besides, a large bank, a temple
of religions, and a large library. These are placed around a public square, the center of which is occupied by a gigantic tower, the Tower of Progress, three hundred and twenty meters high. From this square starts a mall, decorated with gardens, along which are built the palaces of the nations of the world. The mall leads to the second group, made up of the Temple of Arts, used for temporary or permanent exhibitions, the School of the Fine Arts, the conservatory of music, the museum of natural history, and the zoölogical garden, all of which are so disposed as to provide an imposing monumental expression. On the same axis is built the group of the sports, with a stadium rivaling the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome, a natatorium, and two palaces for physical culture. this monumental part of the future city is completed by the residential section, planned on the type of the garden cities.1

The images of Hèbrard and Andersen's proposal, however, show a heavy Beaux-Arts inclination. This is most evident in plan, where the giant center axis dominate. The center of the City is much more biaxial. An elevation of the project's dominating central feature—the Tower of Progress—also shows some Beaux-Arts flourishes. To call the building monumental is to give it short shrift: it was an overscaled, polystyled collection of triumphal arches, columns, pilasters, and apertures culminating in a lantern that is part-Bramantian Tempietto and part-Christmas ornament (and perhaps even an anticipation of Socialist Realism).



Ernest Hèbrard, Tower of Progress, 1913-14 (Source)

This, however, was to be a temple to communication. Hèbrard and Andersen describe the Tower's program and purpose:

This Tower of Progress was conceived to be of practical utility to men of all nations: to record their requirements and to plead their causes, to protect the inventor and the worker and to look after their essential economic needs, to be the intermediary between the capitalist and the laborer, to protect their rights and to plead their case before the world, to increase the development of hygiene, to make possible more elevated social conditions, and above all, to uplift the oppressed and to harmonize all human efforts.2

As anthropologist Paul Rabinow observed, Hèbrard's and Andersen's city would "host an endless succession of world scientific congresses, provide an archive of advances in all scientific domains, and facilitate the greater good of humanity through the centralization and rapid dissemination of information."3 All relied on a very nuanced theory of communication: if the tower was supposed to be a building dedicated to communicating the latest scientific and technological breakthroughs, it followed that such communications must be "undistorted", or to put it another way, clean. Again, Hèbrard and Andersen: "It is in the power of science to purify the world, to exterminate destructive germs from every fibre and nerve, to give strength and precision to all mental and physical efforts. Science in the near future will provide for all man's essential requirements."4

The connection between politics and hygiene, especially when mediated through discourses concerning the built environment, became pronounced in France through further work by Hèbrard, Tony Garnier, and even Adolphe Augustin Rey. The trend would continue in other countries as well. For example
Barcelona’s incipient urban problems were spotlighted in the pages of A.C. issue number 25 at the height of the Spanish Civil War. Published by G.A.T.E.P.A.C. (Grupo de Artistas y Técnicos Españoles para el Progreso de la Arquitectura Contemporánea - Spain's delegation to C.I.A.M.), A.C. became the primary media organ for the discussion of urban issues in Spain as well as a base for promoting ideas about modern architecture. Issue 25 issue had an alarmist tone, and according to A.C.’s editors, the goal was to understand “the influence of the environment over the individual” as well as the “urgent transformation” of Barcelona’s “unsanitary neighborhoods.”5 A.C. demanded that “urbanism be treated from here onwards in a rational manner, like a science.”6 The issue continues with dozens of photographs by Josep Sala and Austrian-born Margaret Michaelis, as well as with C.I.A.M.-style infographics by Josep Torres Clavé. The point of these images and diagrams is indisputable: they serve to highlight the sanitation and hygiene issues in various Barcelona neighborhoods. The publication also features a polemical bent. A series of diagrams on pages 20-21 depict the history of Barcelona in a series of stages: “Maquinisme” (“Industrialization”), “Importació de la Gent del Camp” (“Influx of Rural Populations”), “Superpoblació” (“Overpopulation”), “Insalubritat” (“Unhealthiness”), and “Mortalitat” (“Death”).7


From A.C. no. 25

The importance of these last two phases is shown in a series of montages entitled “El Perill a la Resta de la Ciutat” (“The Danger in the Rest of the City”) and “Hem D’Acabar Amb L’Ambient de la Vivienda Insana” (“The Asphyxiating Environment of Unhealthy Living Must Finish”). The first montage features photographs of old parts of Barcelona. Superimposed on top of these images is a blown-up picture of a louse. The second montage shows an aerial photograph of Barcelona’s Fifth District. Two of the district’s unhealthiest areas are shown as being cut out, replaced by vivid, green spaces. The text reads, “The primary problem of the city’s ancient core is neither a problem of circulation nor of aesthetics. It is a problem of SANITATION. Neither the widening of streets nor the narrowing of sidewalks will resolve anything. In order to solve this problem, it is necessary to use the radical procedures of urban surgery: THE SITES OF INFECTION MUST BE REMOVED.”8 These clear images suggest a political connotation as well—the infection is political as well, for we are to understand the louse as an emblem for dangerous Nationalist elements infiltrating Spanish society.

In the above examples, science—whether in the guise of social ideals or as a basis for rational planning—becomes a message with which to communicate ideas about sanitation and hygiene. Whereas Hèbrard's and Andersen's World City of Communications emphasizes "clean" communications, issue 25 of A.C. demonstrates how media can be used to emphasize the correlation between ideological and physical health. And as the opening example from Z suggests, the city, whether idealized or dramatized via media channels, became the terrain for such protracted discussions.
This all resonates, quite uneasily of course, with Jean Baudrillard's characterization of media as "the unclean promiscuity of everything which touches, invests and penetrates without resistance, with no halo of private protection, not even his own body, to protect him any more."9 Or, put another way, more signal, less noise.


Notes
1 Jean Paul Alaux. American Institute of Architects Journal 2 (March 1914):159.
2 Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), p. 249. For more information on this project, see Ernest M. Hèbrard and Hendrik Christian Andersen, Creation of a World Center for Communication (Paris, 1913); Guiliano Gresleri and Dario Matteloni, La Citta' Mondiale: Andersen, Hèbrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier (Venice, 1982), 12-45.
3 Rabinow, French Modern, p. 248.
4 Hèbrard and Andersen, quoted in Ibid.
5 “Influencia de l’ambient sobre l’individu … urgent transformació dels barris insans.” A.C. Documentos de Actividad Contemporánea 25 (June 1937), n.p. in Jordana Mendelson, ed., Magazines and War 1936-1939: Spanish Civil War Print Culture.
6 “El urbanismo debe ser tratado, de aquí en adelante, en formal racional, como una ciencia.” A.C. Documentos de Actividad Contemporánea 25 (June 1937), 3 in AC/G.A.T.E.P.A.C. 1931-1937 (Barcelona: Ediciones Gustavo Gili, 1975), 3.
7 Ibid., p. 21.
8 “El problema primordial del casc antic no és un problema de circulació ni d’estètica. Es un problema de SANEJAMENT. Ni eixamplant carrers ni corrent voravies no resoldríem res. Per a solucionar – ho caldrà emprar procediments radicals de cirurgia urbanística: S’HAN D’EXTIRPAR TOTALMENT ELS FOCUS D’INFECCIÓ” Ibid., p. 27.
9 Jean Baudrillard, "The Ecstasy of Communication" in Hal Foster, ed. The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (New York: New Press, 1999 [1983]), p.132.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Structural Engineering: A Hipster's Tale

Structural engineering is hip. In fact, it is so hip, that structural engineering has perhaps become a kind of emblem for erudition. A cocktail conversation or beer bust suddenly enters another plane of hipsterdom as Gustave Eiffel, Ove Arup, or Félix Candela are namechecked in the same breath as Television, The Flying Burrito Brothers, or Buzzcocks. That structural engineering has some level of hip caché becomes evident in David Gordon Green's hipster-action-stonerroman Pineapple Express (2008). You may remember the scene where Saul Silver (James Franco) confesses to Dale Denton (Seth Rogen), before taking a draw from an impeccably-wrought "cross joint", that his favorite civil engineers are M.M. O'Shaughnessy and Hannskarl Bandel.



Okay, so these two are civil, not structural engineers, but I think you may be catching the point I'm trying to make here. Note how O'Shaughnessy's innovations for the Golden Gate Bridge are secondary only to his ability to roll a fatty.

For more evidence that urban youth culture has taken knowledge of structural engineering as a signifier of taste, consider the interview with Guy Nordenson in the latest issue of The Believer. As many readers will surely know, The Believer is a pretty good read. Published semimonthly, the magazine bears some of the quirky, understated, yet meticulous chamber humor from the McSweeney's imprint. I sometimes find myself taking issue with some of the reviewers. For example, William Giraldi's essay (from the March/April 2009 issue) on why William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), the "scariest movie ever made", is not so scary relies so much on the author's own agnosticism and overlooks the film's sheer visual power. The interview with Nordenson, on the other hand, is a very good read. Here's an example:

BELIEVER: You've worked with a number of very accomplished architects. What are the parameters for a successful collaboration?

NORDENSON: There is a need to mark off territory so that inventive energies have space to develop. Where there is good collaboration, people are comfortable giving up space to each other because they believe that they will be pleased with what comes out of it. Look at someone like Peter Rice, a very successful Irish engineer who worked in France and Britain and collaborated very closely with Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers among others. He had a certain number of preoccupations. Piano and Rogers appreciated these preoccupations and benefited from them because they made their architecture more complex and sophisticated. They made room.

The opposite of that is Frank Gehry, where there is an absolute instrumentalization of all disciplines and all tools to execute an artistic vision with Gehry at the top of the pyramid. There are technical challenges and opportunities but not a whole lot of give and take. Frank Gehry's relationship to engineering and consruction says: the cruder the better. You visit the Disney Concert Hall and, in the office of the musical director, there's this gigantic gusset plate that's part of one of the trusses in the system. It's exposed and fire-protected. One of the architects who worked on the project described it to me as a train crash in a room. It's monumentally messy.

Nordenson's candor is something wholly missing from contemporary architecture criticism, which, as a colleague remarked to me, is something akin to creating a treatment for a Hollywood blockbuster starring your own bestest, coolest friends. The interview manages to capture a little bit of the hipster in Nordenson, especially when he's talking about his current projects. Check out this exchange, on the heels of Nordenson's remark that Palisade Bay is the "Central Park of the twenty-first century":

BELIEVER: Can you elaborate on the comparison though? Central Park, as conceived in the 1850s, was to be a geographical and social nexus for the city. It also communicated certain narratives about pastoral nature and city life. What do you think Palisade Bay will communicate? What messages are in the subtext?

NORDENSON: It links back to the psychological. Psychological is probably too weak a word. If you go back to D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature, Lawrence recognized that in the nineteenth century there was this issue for Americans to contend at the same time with European culture and the wilderness. Both wilderness as reality and wilderness as an idea. I just finished reading a review of the biography of John Muir. Muir and Olmsted were part of a culture that included Melville and others who thought hard about what this wild animal of nature meant to them. The presence of Central Park in the city is tied to this thinking. Muir would have argued that, to be complete, humans must have that sense of both wonder and fear in the face of nature in the city as well as in the wild.

I grew up at a time when Central Park went through this transition from being a useful and functional part of our lives to a place that was to be feared. I think many people who lived in New York through the 1970s appreciated that there was this duality of danger and opportunity that existed in places like Central Park but also on the water, under the elevated highway, and out on the abandoned piers. This is what appealed to Smithson. He was another fan of Smithson.

Where Palisade Bay has this kind of energy is where it comes between the apocalyptic tone of climate change and a very American tradition of thinking about nature.

There is much that is true in that statement. And yet what impresses me most is the kind of reasoning that such an exchange revealed. Here's a figure who is able to marshal his own understanding of history and culture in service of a project (as well as a different understanding of, um, green than that from Pineapple Express) without sounding like a pitch-man. And though there was a bit of self-conscious, light-hearted hipster bashing at the beginning of this piece, I was speaking somewhat truthfully. Nordenson not only teaches at Princeton, but Gustave Eiffel is an important figure in my own research. So, I may be a little biased in my own assessment of Nordenson vis-a-vis my personal interest in the history of engineering. But, despite all the nudge-winking, such interest in Nordenson is totally justified. He is, for lack of a better word, hip.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Sentient City is a City

Too Smart City's regurgitating trash can (Source)

I must start off this piece on
Toward the Sentient City with an admission: as I write this, I am unsure as to what my own take on this excellent and thought-provoking exhibition should be. Which hat do I wear? Am I a technologist? Kinda. An architect? Definitely not (although I am affiliated with an architecture school). Urbanist? Unless someone can offer me a specific definition for this term, or circumscribe its putative scope, my only response is, who isn't an urbanist? So let me spin this question around and redirect it somewhat: What object doesn't have a significance at the urban scale? Such thoughts inevitably lead us to think of cities, of those dense agglomerations of natural and built objects that have—for lack of a better description—really, truly shaped all aspects of modern life. As the geographer Ed Soja would put it, such observations are proof that we are, indeed, "putting cities first."

Such language, though deterministic, carries its own burden. And here is where I lay my cards on the table and ask this question from the point of view of architecture and urban history: how do we read a city though its many objects? It's a very old, yet still relevant question. Let's face it: when looking at the objects presented to us in Toward the Sentient City—tilting benches, smart(ass) street signs, plant thermostats, unassuming sensors, and burping trashcans—we are asked to look at our cities differently. This varied and unusual assortment of technical objects command our attention because they reacquaint us with streets, buildings, public spaces.

Reacquaint? How? For starters, consider the use of the term "sentient" in the exhibition title. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "sentient" as "having the power or function of sensation or of perception by the senses"; or, put more simply, "conscious or percipient of something." Sentience is therefore a quality, ostensibly animal in origin, that is transferred onto the inanimate. If a "sentient city" is one imbued with its own sensorium, how, then, to qualify such feeling? The Italian architect Aldo Rossi gives us a clue in his A Scientific Autobiography. He writes:

Cities are in reality great camps of the living and the dead where many elements remain like signals, symbols, cautions. When the holiday is over, what remains of the architecture is scarred, and the sand consumes the street again. There is nothing left but to resume with a certain obstinancy the reconstruction of the elements and instruments in expectation of another holiday.1

The above statement—though taken out of context and applied to a different set of parameters—is still useful when considered alongside the five commissions in Toward the Sentient City. Like the various visions of 21st century urbanism from the exhibit, Rossi's elegaic vision of the city is wholly materialistic. Its various objects are skeleton keys through which we can decode a city's spectral traces to reconstruct a reality. Rossi's quote also provides us with a useful metaphor: his city is sentient in the sense that it has a communicative potential. If, as Rossi believes, a city wants to communicate, it is our task to close this loop. As communications theorist Colin Cherry would put it, the effect of such closing is to create a two-way symmetrical link. In short, the creation of dialogue.

MIT SENSEable City Laboratory's Trash Talk (Source)

To press this point, I want to shift my focus to those commissions that concern consumer objects. And here, I want to talk trash. Literally. Both
JooYoun Paek's and David Jimison's Too Smart City and MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory's Trash Track concern the "afterlives" of consumer objects. Whereas Too Smart City's smart trashcans regurgitate trash when it is "thrown the wrong way" (I'm assuming here that they "return" non-biodegradable or non-recyclable items), Trash Track's intelligent skeins track an item of trash and reveal "the final journey of our everyday objects in a series of real time visualizations." These two projects share similarities in that they both call into question that very moment when a consumer good becomes refuse. I would even say that Too Smart City's trash cans go beyond sentience—they are clever. A denizen of Too Smart City really has little say in determining whether a cardboard coffee cup is trash is not. Similarly, Trash Track's visualizations depict a secret life of sorts for trash: as soon as the same cardboard coffee cup enters a waste receptacle, it becomes part of a different, unseen system. These projects really ask us to rethink what it means to throw something away. And in doing so, they recalibrate our relationship to a city's sanitation infrastructures.

Generally speaking, the above projects demonstrate how consumer objects mediate our understanding of cities. It is in this sense that Too Smart City and Trash Track share a lineage with architectural projects from the 1960s. The most extreme condition would be Archizoom's consumption-centric No-Stop-City (1969). This enigmatic project, consisting of a infinite, isotropic field of objects is really a limit case—its assembly and display of consumer goods in mysterious, hermetically-sealed interior landscapes (intentionally) questions our ability to read the metropolitan condition. Yet other projects come close to mistaking a city for its constitutive consumer objects. And in some cases, architects have readily refused to distinguish between the city and its objects of throwaway culture.

Archigram, Living City Survival Kit (1963), Reproduced in Theo Crosby and John Bodley (eds), Living Arts, no. 2, London: Institute of Contemporary Arts and Tillotsons, 1963. Archigram Archives, London (Source: Sadler, "The Living City Survival Kit: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man").

For instance, Archigram's Living City Survival Kit (1963) is a carefully-arranged display of cigarette cartons, phonograph records, Playboy magazine, and other objects organized into categories of "air", "drink", "fags", "make up", "drugs", "money", "sex", and "cars". Historian Simon Sadler problematized the relationship between these objects and architecture, reminding us how, "Living CIty and its catalogue were not about form, but its opposite: the pre-architectural formlessness of space, behaviour, life."2 When placed within the circumscribed spaces of the Living City exhibition, these objects described "an urban experience unaccounted for by maps, plan or function. It concentrated on space and experience at the micro-scale. The Survival Kit for these micro-spaces was predominantly made up of low-brow, everyday, pocket-sized, throwaway, illicit, mass-produced consumer goods."3

Urban objects, from 2 ou 3 chose que je sais de elle (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

The actual, physical arrangement of consumer objects in the Living City Survival Kit also recalls another similar configuration—the (famous) final shot from Jean-Luc Godard's 2 ou 3 choses que je sais de ellle (2 or 3 Things I Know About Her) (1967). Here, the equation of a city with its constitutive consumer objects reaches its fullest expression. Godard arranged containers of laundry detergent, cigarette boxes, pasta cartons as buildings. This decisive orthogonal arrangement almost reads as a branded version of Ludwig Hilberseimer's Hochhausstadt project (1924). As critic and theorist Sarah Whiting put it in a recent issue of Log, Godard's set pieces suggest "vast bundles of urban land that represent power and its lubricant, money."4 Unlike Living City, then, Godard's meticulous final shot is an act of cognitive dissonance that conceives of an architecture literally shaped by consumer behavior.

What does this all have to do with an exhibit devoted to situated technologies? The above projects were all contemporary visions and only looked to very immediate futures. Likewise, the idea of a "situated" technology also suggests contemporaneity, a literal and figurative rooting in the present. And yet the exhibition's title deserves additional scrutiny—specifically, the calculated use of the word "toward." In an architectural context, the word no doubt recalls the title to Le Corbusier's Vers une architecture (1923). Much critical ink has been spilled interpreting that particular book's mysteries and trajectories. It almost goes without saying, but deploying the word "toward" in such a decidedly architectural context signals a move to the future.5 If the title Toward an Architecture describes a hope in architecture's ability to counter a social threat, similarly, we would like to think that Toward the Sentient City looks to situated technologies as a formative part of our future urban experience.

Such talk about the future can veer towards the sentimental and the nostalgic. Literary critic Frederic Jameson even admonished popular visions of the future, such as science fiction, as a kind of wasted futureology. He declared how science fiction's "deepest vocation is over and over again to dramatize our incapacity to imagine the future."6 Despite this seemingly hopeless assessment, Jameson even recognized that science fiction is rooted in the interminable now, or, as Sigfried Giedion would put it, the "eternal present." And being rooted in the now is not a bad thing. Recall that some, if not all of the technologies in Toward the Sentient City are available in the here and now. Being rooted in the present at least gives us the hope of imagining our urban future.

Toward the Sentient City is curated by Mark Shepard and organized by the Architectural League of New York. The exhibition is on display at the Urban Center, 457 Madison Avenue, New York, NY from September 17 to November 7, 2009.

Notes

1 Aldo Rossi, Autobiografia scientifica (1981), quoted in The Architecture of the City, Joan Ockman and Diane Ghirardo, trans. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1984), p. 3.
2 Simon Sadler, "The Living City Survival Kit: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" Art History Vol. 26, No. 4 (Sep., 2003), p. 559.
3 Ibid.
4 Sarah M. Whiting, "Super!" in Log 16 (Spring/Summer, 2009), p. 23.
5 For more on the meaning of the book's title, see Jean-Louis Cohen's introduction to Toward an Architecture, John Goodman, trans. (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute Publications, 2007).
6 Frederic Jameson, "Progress Versus Utopia, or, Can We Imagine the Future?" in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2005), pp. 288-89.

Friday, October 02, 2009

For The Interactive Set ....


Fox and Kemp, Interactive Architecture (2009)

History affords a glimpse into the future. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it really isn't. For example, history can be used to legitimize an architectural agenda in order to project it into an alternative realm. We like to call this mode of writing "operative history"—a kind of history writing that looks to contemporary architecture to make a claim as to what building will and should be.
This kind of writing has been a staple in architecture schools for decades and continues to provide designers, educators and scholars with a fulcrum with which to leverage their own thoughts about the built environment.

This is not to say that Michael Fox's and Miles Kemp's Interactive Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press 2009) aspires to such a mode of historical writing. In fact, lumping this rather excellent book in such a category would be fraught with many difficulties. The reason for this is that the authors are so secure and confident in the potential of interactive architecture (IA) that any historical framing of the issue is (necessarily?) relegated to a rather brief discussion in the book's introduction. But more on that later. They key word here is "emergent," and the authors therefore tell us how their book "outlines a vision for the future through contextualizing and understanding the current landscape of projects and trends in IA, and its integration of new emerging technologies." As the various sumptuously-photographed projects demonstrate, not only is IA out there, but there is a lot of it. And therein lies one of the book's many marvels—Fox and Kemp provide the reader with a panoramic snapshot, or "Project Landscape" of practices that exemplify IA's current state and future potential.

The project landscape in the pages of Interactive Architecture privileges IA's inherent physicality. One reason for this is that the authors are very careful in framing their definition for IA. As they put it, "The current landscape of interactive space is built upon the convergence of embedded computation [intelligence] and a physical counterpart [kinetics] that satisfies adaptation within the contextual framework of human and environmental interaction." Yet IA's physicality does not necessarily appear at the building scale. There are hardly any buildings in Interactive Architecture. Many of the projects here consist of installations, curtain walls, interactive façades, and even sensor arrays. In fact, one could very well argue that the projects here call issues of scale into question. Many of the projects are only parts of buildings or rooms. Is the operative scale, then, the systemic? It's a question worth revisiting as these kinds of projects become more well known. For one thing, projects like Jimenez Lai's Phalanstery Module, Michael Fox's photographs of sensors and actuators, and Stamen's visualizations require us to rethink differences between architectural and urban scales. These three projects also provide us with a nice index of the kinds of projects shown in Interactive Architecture. Lai's Phalanstery Module is a kinetic piece built out of wood and nails. Fox's tiny machines are stationary, yet potentially ubiquitous. Stamen's work is pure information representation. All change according to changing inputs, whether physical or digital. They are, in other words, responsive.

Other than introducing a new spectrum of interesting projects, Fox and Kemp excel in providing readers with a useful method for framing IA. Projects are organized according to combinations of kinetics and embedded-ness. "Adaptable spaces" can be either mostly kinetic (like Lai's) or mostly intelligent—all are, however, interactive. When looked at this way, then, Interactive Architecture is more redolent of texts like Ernst Neufert's Bauentwurfslehre (1936), the well-known collection of architecture standards (or, as it is commonly known in English, Architect's Data). This is not because Fox and Kemp's book aspires to Neufert's encyclopedia-ness. It has everything to do, however, with the fact that like Architect's Data, Interactive Architecture is aimed at practicing architects. When viewed in this light, the book involves much more than just checking the pulse of IA's current project landscape. It is, in every sense of the word, a handbook for future practices.

Crtics are apt to dissect the book in many ways. For example, although the authors do privilege the physical, they do devote a section to interface design—a category which, at least in the mind of this reviewer, would seem to undermine Interactive Architecture's ostensible focus on tangibilities. Additionally, others may point to how the author's agenda puts a stranglehold on the organization of its content. This too rings familiar, and in fact, Fox and Kemp's declaration in the introduction that "it is not difficult to see that [interactive architectural systems] are an inevitable and completely integral part of how we will make buildings in the future" seems problematic. Such a statement would not only conjure architectural modernism's own techno-bureaucratic bent, but would also set off alarms for historians of technology willing to counter techno-determinist claims such as Fox's and Kemp's.

But back to history, if only for a moment. Fox's and Kemp's own history of IA begins with Gordon Pask, John Frazer, and Cedric Price. This history, which includes a familiar trajectory of names of projects, seems myopic. The authors namecheck Norbert Wiener, but do not attempt any detailed discussion as to his work (or, in the same manner, Claude Shannon's) really informs the history and theory of IA. There is some cause for concern in how Fox and Kemp project this history into the present day with little effort. In fact, such a readied connection between then and now would lead one to conjure Sigfried Giedion's idea of an eternal present. These are not faults. Perhaps, then, it is best to look at Interactive Architecture as a double-opportunity: a chance to bask in a text that really, truly provides us with a view of the future of architecture, as well as a chance for a more meaningful historical understanding of such developments.